It’s Monday again. Another useless staff meeting so early in the morning. I’m sitting with all of the other teachers, wondering if they are wishing the weekend could be just a little longer. It’s February and I’m in my second year of teaching. It’s cold and I’m depressed again and out of ideas for the classroom. I want it to be Sunday or Saturday, but not Monday.
This morning, my principal is running the staff meeting, which is very unusual. He hardly ever comes out of his office. He’s a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, which doesn’t work well in school for teenagers who are completely out of control. He’s a horrible leader. Today, he’s a humbled leader, then again we all are about to be.
“I’m afraid I have some very bad news. Over the weekend, Joe was shot and killed.” There’s a silence that falls over the room. It hangs in the air and isn’t broken until Joe’s homeroom teacher bursts into tears. I sigh heavily fighting back the tears. I can’t cry about this, he wasn’t my student. Just a student that I knew, who I saw in the hallways, and now he’s dead. He was 15.
“What could I have done differently? What could we have done differently to save him? It’s our fault. All of us.” This is what I’m shouting to one of my good friends, Arnie, a few days later. I’m shouting this while crying because I’m upset about Joe. I’m so angry because I can’t help these kids and I feel like no matter what I do, it’s never enough. Once again, I’m a failure. This seems to be a recurring theme in my teaching career.
Arnie tells me that there’s nothing that any of us could do. It wasn’t our fault. He isn’t helping. Nothing comforts me about the reality of the situation. I’m just a teacher, I’m not a savior. Why can’t I be more of a positive force in these kids’ lives?
I still get sad thinking about Joe sometimes. Thinking about all of my current and former students. I think about my students' lives and how hard each of them has it. Single parent homes, poverty, drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy – the list goes on and on. Do I make a difference?
When I get overwhelmed by it, I try to remember the good times I’ve had with my students. I think of the laughter and the smiles I’ve shared with many of them. It’s those pieces of joy that I try to keep in my mind. The memories of the good times, of learning and finding out about new things. That’s all I can give them. A bit of hope through education because I know now that I can’t save them from their lives.