The power of teachers
This is a post I’ve been struggling to write since the tragedy at Sandy Hook when we witnessed the courage that those teachers showed protecting the lives of their students. I meant to write it again in the aftermath of the tornados when once again we were shown the strength, courage, and dedication that these teachers had protecting the lives of their children. I meant to have this done by yesterday, but given other events in my professional life, it has fallen to the wayside. This is not a story of a teacher putting their lives in danger in order to protect my own, but it is a story of the quiet courage that my teachers showed in protecting me and my class in the wake of a tragedy.
Yesterday, June 17th 2013, marked the 12th anniversary of my friend Chris’ suicide. We were in 7th grade. Each year it becomes scarier and scarier as I realize just how young we were. I remember being a freshmen in high school (the age of my students now) and remarking on how much that event made us grow up before our time. Can we just stop and think about that for a minute? A *14* year old mourning their lost youth. I realize now just how much youth I had left (cue me in ten years looking back at me at 25 and laughing at how “grown up” I thought I was.)
At 12, death is something that happens to people on the news at night. It happens to people who were sick like that kid, Nick, who was in 8th grade and died of Leukemia earlier that year. Or my friend Sam’s mom who died of breast cancer that previous fall. Death happens to pets, to grandparents, to great-aunts that we never met but we’re still obligated to go to their funerals. If it happens at all to an otherwise healthy kid our age, it’s because of a car crash. But suicide?? That was beyond our reasoning. I remember walking in to school that day, June 18th 2001, dressed up for a skit I was going to do on Tom Sawyer. (I was Injun Joe…the things we remember, right?) I remember walking in and seeing everyone standing around in the hallway—which was strange as most people tended to cluster in their homerooms. I remember seeing my 7th grade science teacher walk by me at a clip, looking upset (typical oblivious me didn’t think anything of it at the time.) I then remember my friend Lauren telling me “Chippy is dead.” My first thought was that it was a car accident. I don’t remember if she told me then that he had killed himself, or if it was later in our homeroom.
Chris was always a cheery kid. We nicknamed him chipmunk, or Chippy for short, as he was always upbeat like a chipmunk, and he had the two buckteeth that are common in those pre-braces years. At the time, it made no sense to me that someone as seemingly carefree and happy as he could commit suicide. As I’ve gotten older, I see that his goofy exterior may have hidden something darker.
But our teachers explained it all to us. Those minutes before the homeroom bell were chaotic. Everyone was crying. They had blocked off the 7th grade wing so no one could get in. In homeroom, all the lights were out (whether that was to keep the room cool in the mid-June heat, or for other reasons I don’t know.) My homeroom teacher, the math teacher Mr. Crowley, explained that Chris had taken his own life the night before. He had hanged himself.
From there, we were told we could call our parents to take us home if we wanted. Those of us that elected to stay were brought down to the forum (our makeshift auditorium) where we could write letters to Chris.
What I remember from that day in hindsight was how strong my teachers were. I don’t remember seeing a single one of them cry. There may have been some red-rimmed eyes, but they held it together for us. They showed true strength that I don’t know I would have. Now that I am in their shoes I cannot imagine the strength it took to hold themselves together while they were in front of us. I can only imagine the chaos in the faculty room. But my teachers, they showed us that it was going to be OK. That we were going to survive all the pain, the loss, the confusion.
Three months later, our class—now in 8th grade—would be clustered around the library doors on the morning of September 11th, 2001 watching the towers fall. Again, my teachers held it together they reassured us it would be OK even when they didn’t know themselves that things would be OK.
I think back to everything my teachers did for me in those years. These were the little things that I didn’t appreciate until I was much older. But it amazes me that they had the fortitude to hold themselves together when their worlds were falling apart. I know how much love they poured into us every day. I know because I do it myself. I can’t imagine losing one of my kids. To this day, I will be forever grateful to the courage, the strength, and the love that my teachers showed to me and my classmates. The kind of courage that took until I was far removed from the situation to appreciate.
THIS is the power that teachers have. It’s not just the moments when they throw themselves in front of a gunmen, a tornado. It’s the moments when they ask if a student is OK. When they say “I’m here for you,” when they say “It’s going to be OK.”
Rating Schools of Ed
I don’t care whether my alma mater earned one star or four. It’s beginning to feel like some weird extension of the Blame Game that goes on in some faculty meetings, where upper el blames lower el for not adequately preparing students, or college English TA’s complain about how high school teachers did not prepare their students for the rigors of freshman college writing.
That is just laziness at work. Every teacher should be able to meet students where they are and guide them to where they need to go, Some will almost get there. Some will arrive.Some with go much further.
I’m afraid reacting too strongly to this report plays into the prevailing theory that teaching at any level is an act of machining identical parts. What I knew going into a teaching program at 27 is much different than what someone else would need right out of high school. All our needs are much different.
I’m afraid people will jump on this bandwagon with, “well, I can’t be held accountable for what/how I teach, since my college didn’t give me enough to go on.” Surely, no matter which teacher ed program we came from, we learned that our teaching on Year 1 Day 1 will be immensely different than our teaching on Year 5 Day 1.
When Books are a Priveledge
Today I just made my second trip from a school near Fordham Road to a school over in Hunts Point. My car was stuffed to the brim with garbage bags and boxes of books….that if not salvaged were going to be thrown away.
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I met an autistic child(we’ll call him Z) yesterday while subbing who used movie talk a lot.
At one point during the day, a student became upset, so he was sitting out for a while to collect himself. This had nothing to do with any other student.
Well, he would have collected himself if Z wasn’t glaring and telling him to “run away and never return.” Which of course made the student start sobbing.
After a talk about why this isn’t okay, Z did one last walk by, glaring, before going back to play.
He also called one of the TA’s a worthless street rat…which I won’t lie, kinda made me laugh inside.
A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stomp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. Now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. This is what happens when a child bullies another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The look on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.
A Question for the #education Community
I’m currently in the second week of my first summer as a teacher. I have been invited back to the school where I started for next year, so my job is secure. I’m currently in a Master’s program, but the one course I actually need that’s being offered this summer is about to be cancelled. There are very few professional development sessions scheduled in my district for high school teachers. Since I just finished up my first year (which was hard and stressful, but not as terrible as I thought), I’m hell-bent on getting better for next year, and I have problems with “just relaxing” for a little bit.
So, my question is this…What books, videos, resources, etc. have helped improve your instruction over the years? I teach high school English, and even though I’m pretty good in terms of content mastery, I’m not so great at the procedural/professional side of it all. I want to use this time to learn as much as I can for next year, so that things are a little less stressful and a little more organized.