End of day Friday. The fire alarm starts going off intermittingly throughout 6th period and into my last class of the day. The alarm was symbolic. For several days leading to Friday afternoon, student’s stories filled my emotional bucket with their pain and fear and stress until my bucket spilled tears from the enormity of their challenges… and my helplessness. The fire alarm represented the warning signals, the red light alarms and in some cases, a call to arms.
There is J.G. whose dad recently lost his job. The family was evicted from their apartment and now their family of seven is staying in a friend’s garage until work can be found. He is getting food from generous teachers on campus. Can I expect his homework to be turned in on time? At all?
N.B. admits he is suffering from depression but cannot get the help he needs because he despises judgment from his family. His dad is in the hospital and he fears being left alone.
A beautiful, talented girl, S.E. fears that she cannot do it all. She tears up as she tells me that she cries herself to sleep each night and wonders if anyone cares about her.
L.W. sadly tells me her cat had kittens and all but one died. She held the kittens all night and one died in her hand. She sent her younger siblings away to insulate them, but she recalled the weight of the poor animal in her hands and asks if she did the right thing.
A.M. states to me before class, “Nothing about death today…okay?” His maternal grandmother passed away the night before and his family was devastated. He is trying to be strong, but grief consumes him and he wears it uncomfortably.
S.B. cannot say a positive thing about anything. Beyond just teenage angst, this student’s negativity is represented in everything she says, writes… and I fear, thinks. Her cavalier attitude masks her into a person who is not very likeable. I think she prefers it that way, but it is exhausting to hear.
My braggart, S. J., lacks a filter for humility. His writing demonstrates how insecure he is… but his presence and speech turn people away from him until he sits alone wondering why he lacks friends.
L.S. graduated (barely). He was in the neighborhood and wanted to say hello. He has dreams of “making it big.” “I’m going to do my thing.” He is a dreamer and it was great to see him and feel his positive energy. Then the conversation changed. “I’m struggling in school… it is just not for me.” “I don’t have a place to live.” “I have about 15 cents to my name.” “I don’t know what to do.” “I can’t seem to stop smoking pot.”
M.J. held back at the end of the day Friday. She was crying before she spoke. She reached into her bag and handed me a ceramic tool. “Please take this from me. I took this from Ceramics and use it to cut myself between classes. I don’t want to anymore. Please take this.”
One of the thoughts pounding in my head is “Why are you telling me this?” Quickly followed by the thought “Thank goodness you told me…..” Hearing student stories like these make me think of many things. There are legal considerations; there are emotional considerations; there are ethical considerations; there are personal considerations… and they bombard me on this Friday. Every kid… every person… has their challenges. The confessions of this week dig into me and fill my mind with sadness, concern…. and helplessness.
I believe it is a testament to my teaching and classroom environment that students feel comfortable talking with me about EVERYTHING. I’m honored. I know many teachers understand the weight of responsibility that accompanies this honor.
The Offspring sing “The Kids Aren’t Alright” accompanied by this video:
The line ringing in my head is “fragile life… shattered dreams.” My kids are other peoples children. How can I help? How can they help themselves?
Are the kids alright? Am I?
… and the fire alarm blares again.