Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Version of Mourning

.... something that isn't covered in all of the teacher training classes/books.... what to do when a student passes away? But even more so, what to do when a student who is close friend with your student(s) pass away?

What to do when a student's father dies?

What to do when another teacher passes away?

Have I been living in some kind of bubble this whole while? I never had these kinds of heart breaking experiences when I was in high school.

I've watched the clip with Brad in it a few times, and my heart just keeps breaking. No, I didn't know Derrick, but I did know Brad and I know I have other students who are most likely upset by what happened. The day that school ended! I know that kids are so happy to be done with school, but I also know that school is a supportive community... if only we had some more time to find a way to talk about it as a community. All of these kids--I hope that they are talking to each other and finding ways to grieve in a healthy way.

I think this loss is especially poignant for me in that the anniversary of Yvonne's passing is on the 14th. For those of you who read this blog, but don't know who she is (and I'm sorry, Kathy--I know this is also your birthday! and it's also the anniversary of the first day of our graduate program in education... what a horrible and wonderful day and so strange to look at it from so many perspectives), Yvonne was like a second mother to me and my sister Chelsea as we grew up. Yvonne is my mother's best friend; she had two daughters and my mother has two daughters. We kind of melded in my childhood in Tennessee as one lovely family--two mothers, four daughters... OK, so there was my father too, but I don't think he was quite in on the fun.

I had so many notes from students about how my patience was one of the things they appreciated the most from me. I have to say that when Yvonne died, I decided that I would use this as a tool for strength. I decided that I would try to be the best teacher I could be in honor of her memory. OK, so I don't know if I always am so proud of that honoring, but I know one of the things I definitely brought with me to the classroom in respect to Yvonne and who she was as a person was her humor in many situations and definitely her patience. Everyone has such rich and wonderfully diverse backgrounds. Instead of punishing that with restrictive assignments, I tried to celebrate it in as many ways as possible! I do what I do to honor so many people, and Yvonne is at the top of that list.

So when I see Brad grieve like this, and I know what kind of a person he is and what he deserves... What is a teacher supposed to do?

When Mike's father passed away, I made sure I talked to him and gave him opportunities to talk to me. He spoke of how he felt like it was his fault for his father's passing--maybe if he was a better son... I never had really experienced this kind of guilt. If I lose one of my parents, or Chelsea or Ryan or Kelly, will I feel guilty too? Will I have regrets when I lose my grandparents? I hope not.

I think it comes down to this--does that person know you loved them? Do you know that they loved you back?

When I lost Yvonne, I remember people telling me--she knows that you loved her, and she loves you so much too. And I know that from the good-bye at the hospital. She was in intensive care and had tubes in her mouth, so we couldn't talk to one another, but I could see it in her eyes and she mouthed to me that she loved me... And I know it was true, and she knows that my love in return was true too.

That's all I can hope for Brad and Burgess and so many other students and family members in Roseville and St Paul who are processing this immense grief of losing a friend and family member. It's so frustrating when they are so young--he was only 17!

And I really can't emphasize enough, though I haven't mentioned it--the kid who punched Derrick New. Like I said, I still don't know who he is, so I don't know if I would recongize him or not (I don't know if once I know, I can admit to knowing who he is, since he's a minor--kind of like the student who was tased--I had a few students write some fairly interesting papers about it in their Issues in Education Research paper) but I know that he was Amy's student...

And my heart goes out to that family too. I've said it already, but I can't stop thinking about them too. Sure, it was a stupid thing to do, but we've all done things that we sincerely regret. We've done stupid things--while driving, to our close friends and family, while dealing with somone frustrating us--and we have been lucky. This student wasn't so lucky, and while I'm not forgiving the act, I'm trying to say that I have sympathy with the regret. (Though, if this person doesn't regret what he/she did... well, that is a very different story!)

One of the journal entries I have had both my Roseville and Crosswinds students write:
Write about something you regret.

The thing that I kept wishing, if wished could come true--when Yvonne passed away, I wished that people had the option of taking years off the end of our lives and giving them to others. I might live to the ripe age of 80--something higher willing--but I'd be happy to have given five, ten years to Yvonne, and I'm sure others too, to make her life longer.

I don't doubt that so many people would have given years to Derrick. When I watch Brad and Alfredo speak of their friend on the news, I know this is a thought that will pass through their minds.

And when I think of MS, who lost his dad, I'm sure that thought occurred to him too. And I hate to think of when he told me that he appreciated all that I had done and how he wished more teachers were like me; I wish that I never had those particular circumstances to make him feel that way.


I was reading a book today... procrastinating from packing (frustrating Ryan) and one character asked another--when you wake up in the morning, who do you think of?

Yes, I think of my family and Ryan and Kelly (who are family anyway).

But the first thought? I don't know if this is sad or not... I don't know if I should admit this or not... but as I was student teaching--it was of my students. Well, the first thought was actually of how freaking early it was in the morning!! And how I would love another hour or two of sleep, so maybe it was me first. Or maybe it was my cats first, who usually snuggle up next to me. But really, the first person (or people, I should say) that weren't present... my students. It wasn't just about, "What will I teach today?" It was about--what is meaningful to them and what is interesting to them. There were some that I thought about more--MS who lost his father, LM who has written about depression, XH whose parents have too-high expectations, some students who who should be passing and others who are giving it everything they've got to get the next highest grade.

Sometimes I think I was too soft as a student teacher. As Amy said--"It's extra credit, not replacement credit." True, can't argue with that. I think I wanted some of them to pass so badly, and I felt guilty about not motivating some who I should have been able to motivate. (Was it the tiredness of student teaching? I hope so... I'll have five classes next year, and I don't want to miss those motivational opportunities, though some students said I motivated them...)

Here's the ultimate question of the night, before I take my tired self to bed, dry my tears, and sleep...

How do you separate yourself?

How do you remain "professional" when you see your students suffering?

Here's an example. MS, whose father passed away, clearly did not feel comfortable speaking with the counselors at school, but felt OK with talking to me. However, I know that is not wise, especially as a student teacher. I would have been more then happy to talk to him about it as a person-to-person... one human being who is still grappling with loss to another. But because of my "power" (a student teacher with power? ha! Of course, the students who didn't pass my class would say differently...) and because of my position, I couldn't just talk to MS about it. This make sense but at the same time is ridiculous. We spend all of this time creating a safe environment for our students and then we are told of how it's not wise to talk to our students about these things! Should I get a degree as a counseler--but never use it--just so I can talk to my students about loss?

Clearly, I am frustrated.

And of course, so much of that frustration comes from the fact that I can't see Brad or Burgess, or any of the others who are upset, since school is out, and I am officially done with RAHS. (More on that later--this clearly weighs more on my mind.) Hopefully I'll get their addresses to send a card, but it's not the same as talking about loss. And an English classroom is good for that. We could read poems or short stories that are comforting and confronting of loss and discuss it in small/large group. We could write and talk and process, but we could also face what happened.

After all, Brad was in my Journalism class and he just acted as anchor to one of the "teams" that did a Broadcast News unit activity. We had the news playing in the background continuously as they worked on their projects. A few days later...

A few days later, and it wouldn't have been a graduation party.

What is Fate all about anyway? I had my sophomores write about it in their journals as we studied Julius Caesar. Fate versus free will.

It's definitely passed my bedtime... Things weigh heavy, and I have my to-do list still. I have officially found my fingerprints as of tonight, which was lovely as well as the lock box that had my social security card (licensure and contract, here I come...) I still have to finish that class within a matter of days, but my priorities are both clear and vague. Yes, I have to fill out forms for my license.

More importantly, what is Brad and Burgess's address? Where can I send flowers and should I go to a funeral of a boy I never knew but meant so much to my students?

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