Today, I did what I had to do: I fought what may be a sinus infection all day to make it to school to provide comfort for at least some of my students. Consequently, I quickly found out that the teacher who passed away, familiarly called “H” by students and colleagues alike, had had a profound impact on so many people.
That made it incredibly difficult. One colleague gave the announcement this morning, and having been at the school for years, he had a hard time making the announcement. The student who normally does the pledge bowed out (H had been a family friend, I understand), and the secretary, bless her heart, broke down crying in the middle of giving the pledge in the student’s place. It was so hard to listen to because the grief was palpable.
And then there was silence, something which has never (to my knowledge) happened at the beginning of my 1st hour class. So I told them, “I’m sorry, but I have to break the silence. We have to talk about this.”
And what ensued was a beautiful session of catharsis.
Out of all the classes, my seniors took the loss the hardest: understandable, since they are the only current class who had H as a teacher (two years ago as sophomores), aside from those who had her for study hall. They were visibly upset, but once I got them to talk about what H meant to them, things quickly started rolling, and I took a back seat and simply listened. I knew that talking to them about how they should act or feel was simply not an option, but listening worked. We laughed and laughed and laughed. I told them, “I knew H was colorful, but I didn’t know the half of it!” At one point, I was laughing so hard that I was crying, and I remarked, “I figured that I would be crying, but I didn’t expect it to be for this reason.”
It was draining, but I felt like it was the best thing I could do for them. I think they needed that release valve, and I helped open things up. That is the most I could have hoped for.
I ended up staying the rest of the day, although in the afternoon I started feeling even worse than at the beginning of the day (even with taking pain reliever). Before I left, though, I told the secretary that there was pretty much no way that I would make it in tomorrow, and she agreed to arrange for a sub. As it turns out, with the funeral on Wednesday, I now have the rest of the week off.
The biggest thing for me with today was coming for my students to be there for them. I wanted them to know that I care about them enough to suffer through the day simply so I could show my support. I want to be that teacher who will walk miles for their students. Despite the suffering, it was a rewarding experience.
Throughout the day, the yearbook had students write down thoughts about H on different-colored Post-It notes that eventually made their way to a posterboard that is currently displayed in the hallway (and which will be displayed during the funeral, I believe). After reading many of the notes, some of which expressed regret that they had not gotten to know H better, I wrote the following note of my own:
I only met you once – having taken over your classes (but certainly not replaced you). Still, the love you elicit from our students has touched me personally, and I thank you for that.
I will do my best to take care of them for you.
It was the best – and sincerest – thing I could think of to say.
As I sat shivering in my class after school with a fever, trying to finish up things so I could leave, a senior dropped in to write down some information for a writing contest that I have posted in my classroom. She said a few things to me while writing down the information, but one thing has stuck with me:
“You have a really good heart.”
I knew the sacrifice would be worth it, and it still would have been worth it if I had not heard a word of thanks or appreciation – but it is beautiful to hear nonetheless, and it confirms for me that I did the right thing. Sometimes that makes all the difference.