March 15, Ides of March, 2013
Writing about what I remember about students instead of "Peekaboo"
I've noticed what hurts students the most. What affects them the most and not for the better. One of the things most noticable is moving them from one location to another. Like young growing plants, yanking them out of their beds and plunking them down somewhere else, expecting them to bloom is perhaps too much to ask. If there is anyone more miserable than an eighth grader from a small town in Connecticut who finds himself in that hot mass of people in South Florida, I can't imagine who that would be. Mentally, that student shrinks into a safer place.
I remember from the rural north a student who clung to me, crying, about to move to a distant city. A student in South Florida wept because her family was moving back to Turkey where she would have to wear traditional Muslim clothing. I remember a boy whose parents were separated. He didn't accomplish much until the following year, when they got back together. Then, there was the Chinese student whose family would be moving back to Singapore-- he was smolderingly angry, almost ready to run away rather than leave the United States.
Death. I remember, I remember -- even when I don't want to. The face of a boy whose family I knew well in the rural north looking around the classroom, realizing he was in the slowest section. You can call the slow section anything you want to, it takes a kid about five seconds to realize he's in one. That particular student went home and committed suicide.
The faces haunt me, even if I can't remember the names. Those who died in accidents, who didn't even graduate from high school. The student who was poised on his chair, one leg tucked under him, eagerly assembling a model of a Roman soldier -- that same youngster who would leave his homework on his desk to take a ride with friends and end up wrapped around a tree. It is the face of his father, too, that haunts me -- for I would see him time after time working in the meat department of the market where I shopped, and he would be forever a whitened echo of himself. I remember the boy who wanted me to explain why it was that his parents died in an auto accident, while he, a baby, survived. Death is as close as a pet, as close as a parent, as close as oneself.
Poverty. I remember a trembling hand, a small hand, giving to me a piece of cardboard around which she had arranged bobby pins as a Christmas gift for me. She had so little. I had long hair then, often worn pulled up in a French twist, and she noticed. When a student is so much poorer than everyone else, you bet it hurts. Small things mean so much then.
Being alone. Parents work so hard for a living. Once upon a time, there always would be someone in the home when the student left each morning to go to school, and someone would be there when he or she returned home from school each day. Not so anymore. I can't guess at the impact of an empty house, but I know it isn't a good thing. For one thing, the temptation of getting into the liquor, the guns, the prescription medicine -- is great. Or having a "party" in one's home. Can't be good. To have to get oneself up and off to school, both parents gone already -- might be too great a task. An empty house is risky.
The student who has both parents together, who has a home where someone's there every morning, every evening, before he leaves, waiting when he returns, who has enough to eat, isn't bullied or feeling out of place -- that's a lucky student. Not all of them are so lucky. Today, on the Ides of March, I'm thinking it's whether they're lucky or not that determines what they run into as students. And how they handle it.