When a Student Dies

I think left to my own devices, and in some other profession, I am an introvert, but I believe that in order for people to learn from one another communication is required.  It is to this end that I write.

Teachers also deal in privacy, the sacred trust that the student-teacher relationship relies upon – the cathedral that is built for learning to occur, it is full of stained glass windows that easily shatter if the student feels at all betrayed.  It is to this end that often I, we, do not write.

But I’ve thought about this too many times, and time and identities are far enough removed that there will be nothing divulged here.   I hope that a person who needs this will find it, because it has happened again.  My own personal sadness is a thing, but the mirror that is held up at any instance like this, that I believe most people go through naturally, is, “did I do alright by this person?”.  So, if you are that teacher, or a person in a similar situation, I hope this is worth something to you.

Besides being advocates, teachers are antagonists.  At Monte Vista, high centered above the door is an oyster with a pearl.  The seed is the agitating grain of sand, the metaphor is not lost on me.  As a teacher, I have pushed students to do-over, to try again, to apologize, to keep their hands off, and to say “please”.  It is the role of the teacher, and, even more broadly to society, teachers are idealistically the devil’s advocate, the non-compliant, the critical thinkers, the subversive, the agent of change.  How can a teacher feel good about this relationship, especially when most days, you have at least one student begging you not to ask them what it is your job to ask of them?

In the age of leveraging the student-teacher relationship by the state for the purpose of raising the accursed test score, even as the state and publishers script interaction, don’t be that tool, instead, still love them.  Love is the curricula, love is the test.  For some students, tests are wildly inappropriate.  There are students I’ve taught who watched their father nearly kill their mother, or succeeded in killing someone else with them present, or, for a couple of students, were nearly killed themselves by, or with the aid of a parent.  I’ve worked with special needs students, who would sleep, or cry, or have a psychotic break during the test or other stressful situation.  Many of these situations are not unusual for teachers, but the question I am left with is: was I enough of an advocate?

The other questions, outside of the content of curricula, is the question: did I teach them enough about how to weather the storm?  Did I teach them the joie de vivre?  Did I help them connect to the community?

When I see a student years after I’ve had them in my class, if they seek to talk to me, if they can look me in the eye, I believe that I did alright by them.  I know that they know, the thing I asked of them was not for me.  Sometimes my teaching has been a selfish thing, but when I get it right, it’s for them.  The student that will be buried this week, they came back a few years ago, and we laughed.  With some students I do very well, with others, I know I could have been better, or I wasn’t “the thing” for them. As a teacher, I let go, knowing as is said, that you can’t be all things to all people. But, I hope I did alright.



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2 responses to “When a Student Dies

  1. Paula C Jackson

    You did. Your heart always does right by the student. Always.

  2. Jeff

    Thanks, Paula.

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