This guest post was submitted by a teacher working in a large, urban Ohio high school. Names have been changed or omitted to protect the identities of those involved.
It happens all the time. A kid walks into my classroom unusually (or usually) angry faced. I start my loving barrage of questions: What’s wrong? You mad? Sad? Sick? Sleepy? Grumpy? Who you mad at? Whatcha sad about? Why’d you stay up too late? You need to go see the nurse? You want to talk about it?
Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Depends on the kid. Depends on the mood. Depends on the real difficult circumstances behind the emotion. Sometimes they just want to be left alone.
Not today. Today, two boys wanted to talk about their 15 year old friend who was shot and killed after school yesterday. One of them said, “I lost two friends this week, Mrs. Jones. I was with one just 15 minutes before he was murdered.”
All I could say was, “I’m glad you weren’t with him 15 minutes later.”
I did my best to hear them in a classroom full of kids. Finally, it was so painful, I asked if they wanted to go talk to the school guidance counselor.
“I do, too.”
So I picked up my classroom phone and dialed the school counselor, Mr. Miller. I told him I had some young men in my class who were very upset that their friend died and needed someone to talk to. I could hear the pain in his voice when he answered that he could not help them right now because he was giving a test. I had to explain to these grieving young men that Mr. Miller was too busy giving a standardized test to comfort them. They would have to wait.
I asked them if there was anyone else on campus they would like to talk to right now. Nah, let’s just work on some compound sentences and try to take our minds off it for a while. And they got to work. Through all their pain, their grief, and their fear, those young men humored me and combined some sentences. They got them all right, too.
I don’t know what strings Mr. Miller pulled, but he called back and said they could come to his office in 10 minutes. They worked every second until it was time to go.
One whispered, “Thank you,” as he pulled on his backpack.
What did he have to thank me for? That I was a decent human being? That his well being means more to me than any lesson I have to teach? That somehow the counselor was able to get out of his testing duties to comfort this grieving child?
And these were just the two young men who were able to express their sadness and ask for someone to listen. One young man refused to speak about it. All I could do was tell him I am sorry that his friend died. I am sorry there is tragedy in his life. Don’t worry about those sentences today.
I am grateful that these young men didn’t have a high stakes test at school today. How could they have gotten through such tedium when their hearts are broken? How could they have given their best effort when their friend was violently, tragically slaughtered less than 24 hours before?
But they came to school today. Despite their inability to think about anything but the loss of their friend, they came to school. They came to school.
These kids deserve better gun control. They deserve to have counseling when they need it. They deserve to mean more to the school than their scores on a test.
They deserve teachers who say forget the lesson today. Today, we are not teacher and pupil. Today, we are fellow human beings struggling to make sense of the world together.