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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #13

“I can think of worse tattoos.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 6.51.05 PMfavicon Monday, 10/9 – 8:45 am
T. stops by to tell me his mom is not coming to our scheduled meeting. He explains they got into an argument the night before. She doesn’t understand why his grades are so low, and she thinks he’s giving up. She told him to find someplace else to stay, she doesn’t want him in her house anymore. He tells me this angrily, but it’s clear that he’s hurting. I listen, resisting the urge to ask questions.

I call his mom. She talks for a long time, repeating what her son has just told me: he’s come this far, has earned A’s and B’s, has worked this hard. How can he stop right before the finish line? She doesn’t understand. She’s exasperated. I listen until she’s finished.

I tell her that many of the seniors are going through something similar, that it’s not just her son who’s freaking out. The future is scary. She tells me she’s lost one son, and it feels like she’s losing another. I assure her: we won’t let him get lost.

Friday, 10/13 – 9:15 am
J. steps into the library between classes. She’s as energetic as ever, already laughing at the joke inside her head. She tells me good morning and asks me to look at yet another college essay, all in the same breath. I realize she’s laughing at the sheer quantity of college essays she asks me to edit. I think we’re at 15 or so. Of course I’ll edit your essay, I tell her. That’s my job.

I ask her how she is.

“I’m fine. Busy. Tired,” she says in rapid succession, the smile faltering a little.

I ask her about her mother.

“She’s sleeping all the time now,” she says, finally slowing down and taking a breath.

It doesn’t last long, though.

“Gotta go!” she says. “Thanks!” she yells behind her, and she’s out the door, on to her next class.

Wednesday, 10/18 – 9:30 am
C. has shown up to school today, and she seems determined to stay the whole day. Great news! It’s not unusual for her to come to school, but she never makes it to the end of the day anymore.

I’m so happy to hear her determination. Maybe today is the turning point.

I ask her to stop by the counselor’s office for a quick meeting about a schedule change. She goes into the bathroom first, next door to the office. Ms. S. and I wait for her. I’m in the middle of our conversation when I hear something strange coming from the bathroom. When I walk out of the office, I can hear C.’s voice. She’s on the phone, yelling at someone, crying and angry. It’s her boyfriend. I try to talk to her, try to get her to listen to me and not him. She yells louder. They’re saying horrible things to each other, and nothing I can say will get her off the phone. She gets louder, and she punches the mirror. I try to talk her down. She keeps yelling. She punches again, with all her strength. Her hand is bleeding. I want to grab the phone from her and throw it out the window. I want to hold her super close and wash her bleeding hand and tell her, “You are strong. You are smart. You are beautiful. You don’t deserve this.”

She keeps yelling and punching, and, for now, all I can do is watch.

Wednesday, 10/25 – 10:30 am
No school today, in honor of Thanksgiving. I’m in the car with my family when the phone rings. It’s K. She’s been accepted to CSU Stanislaus.

Joy! This is huge for K. and her family. She will be the first in her family to go to college, the first in her family to finish high school. It is a wonderful accomplishment not just for K. but for her entire family. I’m so honored she’s called me and told me. I can add this achievement to my long list of things to be grateful for.

Friday, 12/4 – 12:30 pm
It has been a week of excellent LHS alumni news. First, A., class of ’07, stopped by for a visit. So professional, in his suit and tie, he was a pleasure to behold. He’s a financial adviser now, full of wisdom and maturity, but still as big-hearted and funny as ever. He told me he referred to the school-wide outcomes in a recent speech he gave to his co-workers. He has them tattooed on his brain forever: communication, social responsibility, personal responsibility, and critical thinking. I can think of far worse tattoos.

Later in the week, I reach out to immigration lawyers for help with another one of my young people. The woman I speak to is kind and offers to waive the consultation fee. When I email her some specifics about the case, she responds with an appointment time and a funny coincidence: she graduated from LHS in 2002.

They’re everywhere, these amazing people. And more are coming! favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!


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