My hardest day as a teacher came this week
On Monday night a current student of mine passed away.
In first period on Tuesday morning I informed my class of 12th graders that one of their classmates was dead.
By their reactions, it was clear they were hearing the news for the first time.
It was my hardest moment as a teacher.
When I heard the news Monday night I was in shock. But I was also at home. Semi-removed from it. Cloistered in the comforts of my own self-indulgent world.
But on a rainy Tuesday morning, with a classroom full of hopeful 12th graders staring at me, it became painfully real.
In your teenage years you learn life is confusing, painful, and unfair. Bad things happen and often with little explanation.
An essential part of my teacher identity is communicating to my students my own human struggles and why I finding healing in writing.
Sure I’m an English teacher but, in such these hard moments you realize standardized tests and high GPAs and college acceptances and bloated incomes matter very little. And placing an emphasis on such frivolous things is wrong.
We don’t know how long we have to live, and if you’re like me, we’ve wasted a lot of life chasing and wanting those frivolous things.
We’ve spent too much time trying to impress the wrong people or caring what the wrong people think.
Too much time procrastinating or being apathetic or ignorant.
Too much time complaining.
Too much time worrying about something that hasn’t happened.
Too much time making excuses.
Too much time being timid.
Too much time being afraid.
Too much time being disillusioned.
Too much time ignoring the truth.
Death is the greatest teacher we have. He never needs a sick day. Never takes a personal day. He is punctual and arrives to class with detailed lesson plans tucked his brief case, takes attendance, clears his throat, stands in front the classroom room and tells the truth:
Life is short.
You have less time than you think.
If you don’t take responsibility for your own life you’ll spent your precious time blaming others, blaming circumstances for your unhappiness.
But you and I both know how easy it is to ignore the teacher.
It’s easy to gaze out the classroom window and wish we were somewhere else.
It’s easy look around the classroom and ask, “Why should I care if no one else does?”
But recognizing the truths that death is teaching is an important step in learning how to use pain and suffering as a means of growth.
And no matter how excellent the teacher, students can not and will not learn the material until they make a conscious choice to take responsibility for their own learning.
All I can hope is that you and I become good students and make that choice.
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