In the spirit of full disclosure, I want to state out of the gate that I am currently on leave from my position as a veteran school teacher. There are myriad reasons for my (hopefully) brief respite, but I have to admit—I’m tired. In 1989, I was an eager college graduate, convinced I was about to set the world on fire. I quickly discovered that I was filled to the brim with educational pedagogy but with zero resources or training to deal with the unique needs of our urban teen population. Now, I’m a teacher with too many years, too much common sense for many of today’s initiatives, and far too many losses. This morning, our district linked an article that discusses the author’s belief that teachers suffer from “vicarious trauma”—a response to dealing with the experiences, suffering and losses experienced by our students. Unfortunately, this is something my colleagues and I have known for many, many years.
I lost my first student to violence in my fourth year of teaching. Today, those are pretty good odds, as many lose those first kids in their first months in the classroom. His name was Brian, and he was a silly, immature kid who charmed most of those he met. He could write up a storm, disrupt an entire classroom, and just when I thought he wasn’t paying attention, he would say something so incredibly insightful that it would leave me at a loss for words. I had both he and his brother in that class, and together they were a force to be reckoned with. On Friday, Brian was journaling about a great party he was looking forward to attending. On Monday, he was dead—shot by one of those party goers. I remember going into work and wondering what I was going to say to my students, especially those in his class. All my planning, however, dissolved when his brother came into that class, on time, and took his seat. He had nowhere else to mourn.
That day, something in me was ignited at the same time that something died. My desire to save every other student I ever had contact with raged in a blazing inferno of anger. On the other hand, my belief that I could save them all perished. Brian was dead. Life moves on. My heart was broken.
That single experience was, unfortunately, not unique and has played itself out over and over and over again in a dizzying spiral of funerals. Listen to what I’m telling you. IT NEVER STOPS. Since that first murder of a child to whom I had sworn to teach to the best of my ability. . .