Tuesday, May 23, 2006

obituaries

In California, people display elaborate calligraphy decals "In memory of ..." on the back of their windows. Usually with dates: 2002-2006 or 1992-2004.

Our school suffered through the mourning process of our third student death today.

Last night at 8:33 a car driving five blocks north of my classroom fired shots at a group of people standing outside. An eighth-grade-boy was hit five times and pronounced dead at the hospital. His best friend, my student, was shot in the arm.

The school learned about the death early this morning. The principal pulled me aside to tell me and let me know the school psychologist and "community liaison" were going on a home visit to check up on the latter student. He had been suspended for five days (an after school fight on Friday), so we didn't expect him to be coming to school any time soon. Apparently the first boy had also been at the fight but didn't jump in. He'd told the principal last week that he wanted to stay out of trouble. The principal had a heart-to-heart with him, agreed to suspend him for only one day, and his last words to this boy had been "I'm proud of you for not getting involved. I don't want you to get killed."

What kind of place is this where a line like that is not a figure of speech?

When I taught in the land of milk and honey, it was a common writing assignment to create your own obituary. Death happens everywhere, though, and whether it was a car accident or leukemia, we suffered through the funerals of students there, too.

During the last period of school, a student of mine complained "I have to go to the bathroom so bad! If you don't let me go right now, I'm going to kill myself. I mean it. How would you feel then?" This was the kid who'd had bloodshot eyes all day, who wasn't wearing red for the first time in weeks--he was wearing black. He was one of the many friends of the boys who'd been shot, and he walks down that street on the way to school each day.

I paused. After a few moments had passed and the others were occupied, I leaned down next to his chair and told him that I would feel absolutely terrible. I said that suicide is a serious topic. I've lost people in my life who killed themselves, and I don't want it to happen again. I told him I didn't want to hear him joke about it or say it just to get my attention. Then I said what every teacher wishes they had said to every student who's ever died: "I care about you. I want you to be safe." He actually smiled and nodded. "I know."

11 Comments:

Blogger Notsocranky Yankee said...

Wow. What a tough way to go through school. Those kids are experiencing things no child should at such a young and impressionable age.

You are really making a difference in their lives and that must feel great. On the other hand, the stress of not knowing what will happen next must be difficult. Does your husband worry about you teaching there?

4:36 AM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

I'm sorry to hear that. So often the good teachers leave places like that and the kids have no one to look up to. Though it's hard for you, I'm proud of you for staying there.

6:05 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Yeah, he worries constantly. Pretty much everyone in my family wants me to switch districts after next year.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...

oh honey
what days you have there
we need more teachers like you
you are officially my hero

7:06 AM  
Blogger James said...

I'm sorry to hear about the shooting. It's sad that it's so commonplace that I first hear about it on your blog when it should be front page on every paper in the country provoking nothing but outrage. Instead the world shrugs.

Be safe and keep being the great teacher that you are. Your kids are lucky to have you. And kudos to you for saying the right thing to that kid. I doubt he'll soon forget that.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Stormmaster said...

After reading this post I felt very sad. Kids should have fun; they should not have to worry about how to get to school without being shot at.
Unfortunately not all are lucky enough to have somebody like you, that cares about them.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Hamel said...

You're an exceptional teacher, I can surmise, from your willingness to treat the student as a person first, a student second.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Can you be my teacher?

2:17 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I think what I do is important, but I get uncomfortable with the idea that teachers are quite the heroes we make them (ourselves) out to be. We just do our jobs like anyone else. Parents, students, actors, writers, photographers, doctors, and lawyers--they're the heroes. Even a few computer scientists out there are heroes. :)

10:11 PM  
Blogger mal said...

wow....I admire your dedication. You are stronger than me.

4:22 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Nah, I just sign up to work in bad neighborhoods.

10:14 PM  

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