About two weeks ago, I asked my students to each write a tribute to someone that is important to them. They were asked to write from the heart and to demonstrate their love and adoration of this person by way of words. The second half of the assignment was the clincher. They were to create visual representations of their tributes and present them to the class. They balked and yelled, but in the end almost all of them did it and lived to see another day.
I teach this unit at the end of the year because it seems like a nice way to end the year on a positive note. Students learn from one another, they find strength when they are pushed outside of their boxes, and they really dig deep inside themselves and find appreciation for the important people in their lives. I had two students that actually broke down and cried as they presented to the class. It may seem sadistic or gross, but I found almost a comfort in that. It meant that the message of my assignment sunk in. It also meant that they did their job in writing from the heart. I try to teach them that words are powerful, and in those instances of raw emotion, they found the power packed within their words. I guess I could call it a teacher success. Truth be told, however, I cry when my students cry and it still hurt me to see them emotionally stressed.
The end of the school year is kind of emotional for me. It always has been, and this week has been no exception. I won’t go into all the details yet because they are still unfolding, but I am finding myself soul-searching and once again contemplating where all my paths are taking me. So maybe it’s my emotions that are bringing this on, but here we go. I am getting to the gist of my post and I appreciate you staying with me!
In the spirit of my tribute assignment, I’d like to tell you about a student. This is my mini-tribute to him (who will remain anonymous). This kid and I didn’t get off to a good start. In fact, I took one look at him and saw trouble. I pulled him out into the hall countless times to discuss things like respect, working hard, my expectations, and begging him to stop coming to school high. He was always ready for a fight and was really good at making my day pretty bad in a hurry. A couple of months went by and something changed. All of his teachers hounding him had made some sort of impact and his behavior was improving. Then he stopped showing up to school. This happens with a lot of our kids and I just assumed that he gave up. I was wrong. My student got shot.
He was walking with a buddy to a 7-11 and he got jumped by a couple of guys. My student did some things to retaliate and then got shot. He was hit 8 times. He lived. Luckily, the bullets landed in his thigh and mostly on the side of his body. I heard that on Facebook there were pictures of his scars from surgery. I really didn’t expect I’d see this kid again until next year. He came back to school today.
He came back to school literally 10 days after being shot and having surgery. They removed all but 1 of the bullets. He showed me his stitches today. This child had almost a 2 foot long incision down his entire abdomen and it was stapled shut. And this child was at school today because, “Miss, I gotta graduate.” Sure, he was obviously in some pain. He was limping and had to leave to the restroom frequently so that he could clean his wounds. But he was at school. And he was smiling.
He sat with me and told me the story of what happened. When he was done, I told him that I was happy to see him. He smiled. Then the mommy in me kicked in and I actually started to cry. I wanted to hug him but he’s a boy and there’s these lame laws that don’t allow teachers to be human beings. I’ve never known a student of mine who has been shot. I told him that and he just smiled.
My students live in a different reality than you or I. This is what they see and this is what they know. Many (or maybe even most) of my students have lost friends and family members because of gun violence. They are at parties where people show up and shoot their friends. It’s a common occurrence in their lives. We just hear about that kind of stuff happening on the news. It wasn’t like that where I went to high school. But these kids come to school with the hope of a better future. Maybe education will break the cycle for some of them. I sincerely hope that this young man will graduate and find a better life for himself. Or it may not change him at all. I can’t predict that, but I can say that I am proud of him. I’m proud of his strength and courage and drive to push on and get ‘er done. I think that we are all stronger and more driven than we give ourselves credit for.
So, yeah, that’s my little motivator for you. Sometimes I curse my job, but it’s stuff like this that makes it for me.
P.S. I have some good stuff coming up–I finally finished knitting my blanket. I’m just waiting for my DSLR to arrive so I can photograph it!