Folded Up

February 25, 2009 at 3:26 pm 2 comments

I wonder if every student teacher is told that they’ll almost certainly collapse into tears at some point. I know that every time I turned around, someone was talking about Teacher Breakdowns as if they were just a fact of life. And of course, teaching is a draining and emotional experience – especially when you add on the stress of school, and applications, and the whole “year-long interview” process of the student teaching.

That said, I never once felt like crying, all the way through my student teaching. After that I taught summer school and never once felt like crying. Now I’m more than halfway through my first year of real-live teaching – and for the first time ever, this morning I thought it might happen.

Seth, if you remember him, is one of the ones whose name became familiar in our household within the first three days of school. He walked into my classroom and caught my attention instantaneously. Enormous green eyes, dark hair that he tried to spike but that preferred to lie, baby-fine, against his scalp. Nickel hoops through each earlobe. Black t-shirts. There was something about him that grabbed my heart. Being a naturally empathetic person, it didn’t take me long to figure out that this kid was hurting badly. He wasn’t a naughty kid, but he was a messed-up kid.

Fast-forward through months of trying to help Seth. We’re talking about a boy who had a suicide attempt at age 10, who had been on a wide array of antidepressants and anti-psychotics until his mom’s boyfriend “manned him up” and took him off the pills cold-turkey. This kid would sit in my classroom and pound the butt of his pen into his forehead until it was pockmarked with deep dents. (The forehead, not the pen; he broke more pens into tiny pieces than I cared to count.) He’d refuse to do any work, or refuse to try. He’d do the work and then throw it away instead of turning it in. My seating charts were crafted around giving Seth a place where he could rock his chair and desk, even shove the desk around, without hurting any of the other kids.

Meeting after meeting after meeting. The first meetings were my doing; everyone else saw a kid who was full of meanness, but I saw a kid who was full of pain. It bothered me and I fought for him. Then the other teachers saw what I saw, and we began the difficult process of trying to convince the parents.

Dad in prison. Older brother off in the Marines. Mom suffering from chronic illnesses and terminal toughness. Boyfriend determined that there was nothing wrong with Seth that a summer at a logging camp couldn’t cure.

I said, early and often, that one of two things was going to happen with Seth in the next five years. Either he was going to walk into my classroom in his shiny new Marine uniform and tell me that he’d graduated high school and had a new life – or I was going to be attending his funeral.

In late November, Seth started folding paper. He made me a jumping frog. It was about that time that I heard from a counselor that Seth liked me – quite remarkable, given that I taught Seth’s least favorite subjects and that he’d never admitted to liking a teacher since early grade school. Then I got an origami flower – a clover, he corrected me – and another, until I had a small bouquet of paper clovers erupting from my pencil mug.

We broke for two weeks of Christmas vacation. (They still call it that around here; in fact, we had Christmas trees in the building.) In the last days of December, I began digging through displays of 2009 calendars looking for what I needed. I knew that I might not be able to get Seth to write an essay, but I could give him a reason to come to class. Finally I found it: a daily desktop calendar, one origami project a day, printed on origami paper. On the first day of class, I told him that “someone got this for me, but I’m terrible at origami, so I was hoping you might be able to help me with them.”

For the last two months, Seth has come in and asked for his calendar page. I’ve got a little plastic bin on my desk overflowing with ducks, cranes, flowers, bug-catchers, and curious angular jumbles. And he’s been reading the books, and doing his homework. Not a miraculous turn-around, but something.

This morning he ran into me before school, with an armful of Grisham paperbacks – his favorite author. He told me that he had extra copies of these books, and that he wanted to give them to me. I took them, thanking him and wondering if there was ever a better gift than one of books from a kid like Seth.

Then I realized that his mom was standing there. “It’s Seth’s last day,” she told me. “We got the call last night. He’s going to be going to [Alternative Middle School].”

I know that the correct reaction would have been pleasure. The Alt school is a MUCH better fit for Seth, and it just might bring him actual success. There, he can get the one-on-one help he needs. He can be supervised, monitored, assisted. And let’s not forget how much work Seth had been for me. My case load just lessened a ton.

But I still feel like I’ve lost something precious. Perverse as it might be, I am going to miss Seth badly.

I sent him home with ten months of origami calendar and a note that I hope he’ll read. Me? I’m going home with a strangely sore heart.


Entry filed under: STUDENTS. Tags: , , , .

Five Styles of Parenting Teacher Burnout and Dropout

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. madhousewife  |  July 10, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Well, *I* just burst into tears. (Almost. Not quite burst, but tears are nevertheless present.) I’m glad Angel is going to a school that is a better fit for him. (I almost said I was glad he was going to a better place. I really am tired.) I understand how you must feel, though. I hope you learn good news of him in the future.

  • 2. Kit  |  July 12, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Let us know if there are any updates. You are a great teacher and God bless you for putting extra effort in for this child.


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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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