The kids in these schools are dying.
Every day is a battle for most of the students that come into my classroom. A vast majority of them are dealing with depression, anxiety, loneliness, crippling insecurity, or all of the above. The hardships and pain that I have seen many of my students go through is staggering. The burdens some of these kids bear is far beyond what should ever be asked of them.
The kids in these schools are dying, and they are struggling to survive and push through the pain in whatever ways they can. The problem is that most don’t know how, and so they end up being destructive one way or another, whether it’s snapping pencils, starting fights, or far, far worse.
Today, I had a kid I’ve never seen before stand outside my class for fifteen minutes trying to get one of my students to come out and talk to him. At first, I thought he was trying to get a girl’s attention, so I yelled at him to go back to class and kept on teaching. When I realized he wasn’t leaving but persisted in trying to get someone’s attention, I went out into the hallway to deal with him.
“What is going on?” I asked. “Why aren’t you going back to class?”
He kept glancing past me, trying to see into the classroom, but my door was closed–I made sure that he couldn’t push past me into the room. “I need to talk to that guy,” he said. “I need to see if we need to take care of something.”
The situation started becoming clearer. “Take care of something,” I repeated. “You mean violence, right? You want to fight him?”
I was lucky that this kid was open with me–many aren’t, which makes coming to a resolution impossible. After all, if you don’t talk, you can’t fix a single thing, no matter how hard you try. I’ve had many a kid shut down on me, but not this one.
He glanced at me, pulling his eyes away from the small window in the door for the briefest moment. “I’m going to be honest with you,” he said. “Yes.”
I told him I appreciated his honesty and asked him what happened. With this kid’s persistence, I imagined the student in my classroom he was so desperately trying to see must have done something truly heinous.
“He bumped into me,” he said, still trying to look into the classroom.
I raised my eyebrows. “He bumped into you,” I repeated, too stunned to make my voice into a question.
“Yeah,” he said. “I was walking down the hall, minding my own business with my headphones in, and he looked me right in the eye and hit my shoulder.” He slammed his hand against his shoulder to demonstrate, in case it wasn’t clear.
“So you want to fight him?” I asked incredulously.
“I just want him to come out and talk to me and tell me if he has a problem with me. I’ve just been back two days, and I’m really trying to keep it cool, so if he can just come out here, it’ll be fine. We can take care of it.”
“Wait,” I said. “You’ve just been back two days? Where have you been?”
Finally, he pulled his eyes away from the classroom and gave me his undivided attention. He told me a bit about his life and what he’s been going through that made him miss school for awhile. He said he’s trying to get his life back on track, and he didn’t want to fight my student, but he was trying to keep his anger under control, so he thought if they could just talk and see if there was a problem, it would be okay. There were so many flaws in this kid’s logic that I didn’t even know where to begin.
They didn’t know each other at all. They didn’t have any issues. They just rammed shoulders in a crowded hallway, and this kid was so full of anger and anxiety, so unable to process his emotions and cope with what’s going on in his life, that he was willing to stand outside of my classroom for as long as it took just for the chance to talk to–and probably fight–some stranger, who in the grand scheme of things made absolutely no difference in his life whatsoever.
“You don’t know this kid,” I told him. “You’re trying to get your life back on track. Why do you think he’s worth it? Why is he worth getting yourself in trouble for?”
He shook his head and said, “You’re right, but I just feel so much anxiety and anger, and I’m trying to keep it under control. But you’re right. You’re right.” We talked for a bit more before he cooled down and decided to go back to class.
Today, this random kid full of tumultuous, irrational emotions reminded me why I teach, why I really do love my job although there are days when I question my sanity. Today, this kid was dying. He was shouldering the weight of his past and all the mistakes he couldn’t undo. He was determined to do better, but he didn’t know how. He had lost his way and was being crushed by a mountain of emotions. He desperately needed someone to come along and just listen to him and help him to think clearly. Today, this kid reminded me that he–and all the kids like him sitting in my classroom–are why I teach.