Slice of Life Tuesday:The ones who get away….

From my hall duty post I can see her come and go.  She’s “one who got away” – a student I could not reach, try as I did.  I see her saunter to the water fountain, her locker, the bulletin board that displays middle school projects.  I ask the same questions each time: “How are you?”, “What are you reading these days?”, and “Where should you be?”.  The responses are always the same, shrugs, non-committal smiles, “Nothing much”, “Oh, okay”, “Math/French/English…”.

She makes her way back to class, reluctantly, I have that feeling i the pit of my gut – the feeling that I failed her in sixth grade, that there was something I could have done that I did not do. What did I do?

I chased her down for homework, once running after her on a bright Saturday morning in town, when I thought I could get her to remember to turn in a project for some credit before the last day of school, when I would have to fail her for the marking period…again.

I would not let her leave the classroom for the bathroom/water fountain/locker/ because I knew she would take too long to come back…and miss even more work.

I kept her after school, asked her to come in before school, and met with her parents.  Each time I would feel a sense of hope…each time that hope was short-lived.

There was not a book I could find, a writing idea I could dream up, a social studies unit I could launch that would captivate her interest, get her motivated to jump in and try.

A lovely smile, a shrug, the occasional roll of the eyes, and her faraway look that spoke volumes: I am not here, and I don’t want to be here.

These are the ones, the ones that got away, that still keep me up at night.  Oh, I do celebrate the others – the ones who are doing amazing things  in college, and high school, and life.  But the ones who somehow get away…these are the ones I think about, and worry about, the most.

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28 thoughts on “Slice of Life Tuesday:The ones who get away….

  1. I think from reading your post that one of the hardest things about being a teacher is feeling you haven’t reached your student. But, as I only say to remind you since I am sure you already know this truth, you never can know for sure the impact you have had on someone’s life.

  2. We all have those students that we feel we could not reach. The amazing thing is, however, years later those same students see us and tell us what an impact we had on them. I know you reached these students is some ways although it might not be obvious how at the time. You do make a difference in their lives.

  3. You post is so relateable. While your descriptions fit your student exactly (A lovely smile, a shrug, the occasional roll of the eyes, and her faraway look), they can be shared with many other teachers which helps many readers connect to this piece. I walk away think that this student will have the memory of you chasing her down the street on a Saturday even if you don’t feel you reached her in class.

  4. This is so heartfelt, Tara. I feel your worry in this Slice. I am going to venture to guess that you reached her and inspired her and changed her in ways that you may never know.

  5. She may not ever let you know what a difference you made, but I know in my heart, you made a difference. These kids are the ones that haunt you, and that’s what makes you try just a bit harder with the next kid.

  6. Oh how I worry about them too. How I love them more for being independent, but how I worry about them for what they are missing in life. I wonder if they will be present somewhere. It is hard to be a teacher who loves children.

  7. Wonderful post. I can see this as a poem, or even stretched into a novel in verse. I’d love to hear more from the student’s perspective. I had a student like this who turned up pregnant the next year and the father was her step-father.

  8. It really is a 24 hour job isn’t it? When we are not there physically we are there mentally, dissecting and refining. Those nights when you keep going over in your head “What else, what else can I try?” are the most tormenting. You will have made a difference Tara, just being in your classroom would have been a gift to this child. Such a lovely warm slice.

  9. I could have easily inserted the name of one of my students this year. He is falling apart as each day passes, and I worry too. As many others have said, we just don’t know what impact we have. Hopefully some day she will know how much you tried and will understand. Sad, but lovely post.

  10. Tara,
    The good news is that sometimes the student who works very hard at remaining disengaged at school, later returns to tell us that when life became even tougher, they did remember and use some tiny ray of hope/wisdom that we had shared.

    The 24/7 frustration of not being able to impact that life RIGHT now is frustrating. But you can only hope and pray that student finds her way.

  11. Such a heartfelt piece. I always remind myself, “When the student is ready, the teacher is there.” (author? yikes – forgot!) She (and others who ‘got away’) will perhaps hear your message best when it is repeated by another down the road of life.

  12. I think it is an impossible goal we educators set for ourselves, that we can reach every student. It sounds like you did all you could, and then some. Here’s hoping she clicks with another such caring adult in her near future.

  13. Like many before me, you are describing one of my students. I still see her in the halls of my old school and just recently heard from her current teacher that things are no different this year. I think our caring will always be something they’ll remember and hopefully, somewhere along the way, someone else may reach where we couldn’t. Perhaps because of the layers of caring heaped on by years of dedicated teachers.

  14. Your worries are shared by teachers everywhere, Tara. But, as others have said, sometimes it takes years to know the difference we made in a child’s life. I’m sure your efforts were not in vain.

  15. I echo everyone else’s sentiments, and add that I am having a sixth grade teaching year this year that feels like too too many I couldn’t reach. It’s a horrible feeling, but when I think about how many teachers actually “reached” me, you know, really engaged me as a child, the number is fairly small. So maybe my role in some students’ lives is setting the stage for that teacher who will finally break through. Setting up the assist for another teacher to score, so to speak!

    “Reaching” can only happen if the stage has been set for it. Students I do “reach” were ready for it, and maybe there’s another teacher I should be thanking for some small foundational groundwork that something I did then connected to. These are the stories I tell myself in the middle of the night, at least. Keep fighting the good fight!

  16. What a touching and beautiful post, on a topic I don’t see written about much. When I started teaching my neighbor who was a veteran teacher told me, “you’ve done the best you could and now you send them on for someone else to try.” It’s very hard to let go. We carry so much in our hearts. You have to believe for the time you shared you cared and whether the student shows it or not it had to help in some way.

  17. Tara, I love everything about this post. It’s crafted beautifully and your heart shines through. I have a feeling that you’ve touched this young girl in some way and some day, she’ll realize what I gift she received from spending time in your room.

  18. We all ache for the ones we don’t seem to reach. They haunt us years after they leave. I have at least one student like this every year. It’s interesting, even though she’s not in your class anymore, you are still there in her life. Still pushing in a positive way. Never giving up. This is you and while she doesn’t say or show it, you are giving her something even now.

  19. Like so many other commenters, I read this piece and sigh and think, “Yes, I know these kids. This year, for me, it’s E, an eighth grader with long, dyed black hair and a nose ring. We haven’t reached her and now, in a few weeks, she is headed off to high school. Like several others, I believe, though, that some seed we have planted will take, and someday, they will come back to visit.

  20. This reminds me of a boy I tried to mentor after my late husband passed. They had just developed a relationship when John died. Ultimately, I failed Carlos or so I thought at the time. Ten years later he reached out to me to say thanks and that what I had tried to help him with hadn’t gone unnoticed.

    Here’s hoping your efforts will pay off in the long run.

  21. I have tears in my eyes, Tara. Not just for this student, but for all of the ones that have gotten away from all of us who care so much over the years. They are plentiful in number, though we wish they weren’t.

    I saw a child today who I’ve been watching across the school year. His behavior is worse. He’s gone from not caring to being combative with his teacher. It pains my hard to see just how disenfranchised he has become with school in such a short amount of time. I’ve only seen glimpses into his life since I’m not in his school every day. Reading this makes me wonder if he, too, will join the ranks of the students who got away from us.

  22. The best thing about this post is the heart with which it is written. I pray that all teachers would have the same concern and never get calloused to the needs of the students. Sometimes I fear that there is so much “other work” that needs to get done that there soon won’t be time to care.
    I hope there is a glimmer of hope in this student, a tiny ray that has made it through. Sometimes we do just have to say, I did all that I could think to do. Maybe someone else will get through the tiny opening that was started by you.

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