A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, April 13, 2008

If you teach long enough, sadly, this will probably happen.

I spent this morning before church reminiscing about a former student. As I counted the years backward, he couldn't have been out of his late teens by now. He'd been a troubled young man-- running around loose, mother blaming everyone and everything but refusing to place any limits on him. He'd been expelled from a private school, and we had been charged with trying to turn him around. He stayed out, he drank, he smoked weed, he boasted of exploits with girls-- and this was as a 7th grader.

The first parent-teacher conference we had with his mom was amazing in her lack of influence over her kid. It was one of those conferences where we had to stop in the middle of it and tell the kid that we would not tolerate him talking to any adult in the way he was talking to his mother and basically threaten to kick him out of the conference. It was that bad. He was a good-looking boy, and it was a good-looking family with expensive clothes and all the material advantages. Certainly his family had lots of money, but not a lot of common sense went on in that house, it was obvious. We cared for him, we enforced rules even when his mother threatened to go to the superintendent at every turn, we refused to respond to his tantrums or manipulation, we tried one-on-one with him, but nothing seemed to work. We refused the mother's demand-- and I am NOT kidding-- that we call the house every morning to get him up since she huffed that she couldn't do it herself.

I moved to the high school at the same time he did. I would see him occasionally in the hallways during class time and direct him back to class. Then one day, I didn't see him any more, and was told he was on long-term suspension. That was the last I heard about him except for the occasional overheard story of him at some party from the rest of my students.

I opened up the paper this morning and was working my way through as is my wont on a Sunday after I have done my morning prayer and told my kids to get up and get moving before we go to church. I got to the obituary section, which I usually skip over with a cursory glance, when a picture of that young man jumped out at me. I knew that face.

It didn't say why he died, but it was far too soon. I have no idea what happened to him after he dropped out of our high school and our alternative program. His life was all too brief, and never really happy. He certainly didn't know what to do with himself. I had hoped that he had gotten some sort of plan in place, and thought about him from time to time, especially when conference time would roll around and I would think about some of the doozies I had sat through in all the years.

How very sad. What a waste.

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At 4/13/08, 7:55 PM, Anonymous Kim said...

Oh. I'm not looking forward to that part of my soon-to-be teaching career.

How sad for that boy. I wonder if the disconnect between he and his family was ever reconnected.

At 4/13/08, 11:29 PM, Blogger Dr Pezz said...

I have a student serving 33 years in the state pen, and for all intents and purposes his life is over as well. Because his parents were going to force him into out-patient drug rehab he killed them and burned down the house to try and hide it.

I had even talked to his mom that afternoon. It was awful.

If there is anything to take away from it is that the other students saw firsthand the negative consequences of a rash act and the lasting effects of drug use.

I really liked the kid, too.

I feel for you.

At 4/14/08, 5:32 AM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Yikes, DrPrezz.

Sometimes I wonder if these lost souls aren't here for a very specific purpose. Their lives aren't really their own - their souls aren't here to learn or interact or grow the way others' are; rather, I wonder if they're not here to teach, to serve as an example to others, to inspire us to try harder with the kids who are dancing on the edge of the precipice. Kids like the ones you talk about almost feel sacrificial to me, and I wonder whether they come to this life with an understanding of that. Perhaps that's why all the best efforts of people who mean them well ultimately fail.

At 4/14/08, 5:42 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

And then there are those (mostly) young men whom we remember sitting in our classrooms, that we read about being blown up or otherwise killed in Iraq or Afghanistan or who knows where next. RIP, Pvt. Marcus Cherry, USMC.

At 4/14/08, 8:10 PM, Anonymous bronx347 said...

Very tragic indeed. So, any idea where the father was in all this?

At 4/15/08, 5:17 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Um, they were separated or divorced, I believe. I don't think he was much of a presence.

At 4/15/08, 9:00 PM, Blogger Rita said...

Ugh. Sorry for this. I haven't lost a kid like that yet; we've had several recent graduates die lately, but none were my students. I have seen a number of my students on the evening news, and that was a big enough jolt for me (not the prep sports segment).

Oh, and I did have a kid (sophomore) tell me today that he's going to name his daughter after me when she's born in September. Wasn't sure what to do with that one!

At 4/18/08, 2:43 PM, Blogger graycie said...

Sadly, I have lost count of my students who have died young. So many factors: illness, drowning, suicide, and for the past few years, car wrecks with alcohol or cell phones or simply speeding on a twisty road.

I hate student funerals.
I hate them.

At 4/21/08, 10:21 PM, Blogger The MAN Fan Club said...

I saw a former student walking down my street the other day, "WARNING SIGNS" came out since he was walking. 4 years ago I worked a few months at the high school and this was one student I helped restrain in our behavior class. He said hi casually and I said hi back asking if he was "Jimmy". He stopped and said yes. I really SHOULD have let him walk on without engaging him. Now he knows where I live. Unless he was too stoned to rememnber.


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