I want to swerve a bit and look at a very real part of teaching that no one will talk to you about and yet you will have to face. Some of your students will die before you. I cannot put it any more bluntly. For all of our “I love kids” and “They are the future” the fact remains that some of them won’t make it no matter what you do. You need to get your head around that and be prepared because it has sidelined some pretty wonderful teachers.
I taught for 23 years in the Flint Public Schools. Flint has lingered in the top 5 of the most violent cites in America for most of my tenure. It is, in fact, part of the reason I came here. I have a huge ego and I thought I could do something about the default option to violence that comes along with living in poverty and being seen as a second class citizen by those in power throughout the rest of the state. The simple fact is, you can’t save everyone. So, I probably attended more than my fair share of funerals of kids who did nothing worse than standing in the wrong place. There are a group of us who go to funerals together because we know there is nothing to say, nothing to do, other than to be there.
But even if you don’t teach in difficult areas (and not all of them are inner cities folks) the process of life will still get some down ahead of you. Illness, accidents, addictions, it all comes to play in those souls you touch and that touch you. As much as you want to believe that you give them everything they need in order to make it, something will go wrong. So that information led me to write the following on my Facebook page the other day after learning that a brain aneurism took a 40 year old former student who had a wicked sense of humor and huge heart for people the rest of the world often forgot. I finish with that post because it says everything that needs to be said. Be well.
“Our students are not supposed to predecease us. I was reminded of that far too often in Flint, usually in tragically avoidable contexts. I have had some other teachers post about losing students in the last week and just this weekend, one of my boys from Catholic Central passed from an aneurysm far too early. There is nothing that makes this “right,” there is nothing that makes it work out. It is simply part of the world and part of life’s process. I do not like it and that does not make it right or wrong. It is a reminder constantly of the need to continue quality relationships, to speak the truth to people. If that means to say, “I love you” or “You crack me up” or “I have learned so much from you” then, by God, make sure it gets said. Because the regrets that linger after loss are hard to put away. When we are left with only our memories, we want to be able to dance them and not have to avoid them. I will laugh Scott, because that is what you wish.”