Friday started out as a great day. It was my birthday. I was taking advantage of the Starbucks rewards card, which meant getting a no-water, extra-hot, Venti soy chai latte for free. It is the little things (or Venti things) that make me really happy.
In addition, Fridays start with a collaboration meeting. I was going work to with a colleague that I had not worked with in a really long time, and I was looking forward to the meeting. In Friday’s classes, students were going to do really well analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of political arguments. I arrived on campus before anyone so as to enjoy the soft morning light, dissipating fog, and the quiet. Early morning is my time. Everything was looking up — until I read my email.
The email that changed my morning was delivered late the night before, after I had gone to sleep. It was from a student that I had been pushing to get his work done. I wasn’t giving him any breaks, and I was holding him to high standards. He was struggling.
Suicide was the important word in the email. But it didn’t really stand out. He used it rather casually. I had to read the email twice in order to get the full weight of its meaning. Reading the note a third time, I began to wonder where the student was at that very early morning minute.
After the fourth reading of the email, I urgently felt the need for more information. Off to the counseling office I went, hoping to find someone who knew the student. Nobody there. Heading back to my room, I ran into the other early-morning teacher. (I’ll call him Brent.) He is a man of few words. When Brent saw me he said, “He actually used the “S” word.”
It turned out that my student was in early to meet with Brent. The student gave Brent the same speech I’d received in the email. This was oddly welcome news and led to a series of events, which ended with the boy in a psychologist’s office by 8:30 am. Although not a morning I’d like repeated, there was a sense of accomplishment and reassurance. My student was getting professional help.
Later, I got back to reading email. I found an unread one from my student’s mother buried in emails from the day before. She was replying to something I had sent earlier in the week warning about her son’s incomplete work. There are some choice phrases accusing me of being uncaring. The email hurts.
Sometimes when you get hit, the blow leaves a mark. This day left a mark.
Dave Keller (@dkeller101) has been teaching Social Studies for 17 years, consistently looking for new curriculum and methods of instruction. While experimenting with technology in education, Dave focuses on teaching the reading and writing skills required for studying our social universe. He has taught classes throughout the Social Studies discipline in a variety of high schools, including a large comprehensive inner-city school, a charter school, and a competitive independent school. He currently lives in Oakland and teaches at Piedmont High.