Do you remember Terry? I remember him every day. Better yet, Terry was with us on Friday. I'm sure of it.
A trusting, safe classroom environment was chief among Terry's goals as an educator, and among his goals for his students and their eventual classrooms. I've been fairly confident in my ability to help students feel welcomed and appreciated, but it's just hard to tell. Friday I was blessed to see that my efforts have not gone to waste.
I asked the students to describe a time when they felt like they grew up a little. We're exploring the idea of "coming of age," as To Kill a Mockingbird is on the horizon. I shared some examples from my past--my parents' divorce, my siblings leaving for college. The students followed mostly in that same path, touching from time to time on the loss of a family member or friend. I even brought up Terry in my last period of the day--how I had to grow up a little when he passed away because I knew I could no longer go to him for advice or dialogue with him about the role of an educator. I knew, I explained to my attentive students, that I would need to do it on my own, to take what he taught me and arrive at the best decisions I could based on what I knew.
It was in this same period that one of my students felt compelled to speak. This is a student that, until now, I regarded as a follower through-and-through. B is often easily led by students with stronger personalities. That said, he's a sensitive young guy who was moved to tears earlier in the year by his mother's reaction to his lack of effort in classes. He's tried so hard ever since to live up to his own expectations and to not disappoint his mother again. She reportedly told him, "I'm giving up on you." It sounds harsh, but I'm nobody's momma so I'm not about to judge the potential detriments or merits of the statement, nor am I fit to attest to whether or not I mightn't of said the same thing if I was her.
After at least 10 minutes of conversation and hand-raising from other students, B raised his hand with a look on his face that I have never seen before:
"When I was young. . . I don't really remember it because I was only 3, but my older brother was killed in a drunk driving accident. My mom tells me about him."
When was the last time you thought you were brave? When was the last time you could have shown more courage? B was brave enough to offer this contribution, thinking long and hard about it and about whether it was right to share it. He sat there afterwards rubbing his eyes, putting his shirt up to his forehead so his classmates could not see the tears. He did not move to leave the room, to get a tissue. He sat and allowed us all to witness his pain.
It made me want to say, "Thank you, B, for your trust." It made me want to proclaim loudly and with conviction how courageous R is to share this with all of us, and how proud I am of this class--despite all their warts and their off-days--for being who they are, individually and collectively, and making it possible for R to speak his truth. Instead, I quietly expressed how brave I thought he was later in the class period when no one else was listening. B nodded in thanks for my words. I weighed whether or not to call home and let mom know, and decided against it. I'm sure it's not on the list of things on which she's ready to reminisce.
I am surprised by this jump B has made so late in our year together as a class. I'm looking at him in another light now, and I'm reflecting on the idea that I need to be wary of the sometimes easily-adopted position that I've got these kids all figured out. I guess I'm a little more like Miss Caroline Fischer than I'd like to admit.
What B said made me want to send Terry an e-mail, or give him a phone call, to tell him how far we've come since September. But instead, I said a little prayer of thanks, because Terry was with us.