Sunday, April 13, 2003

Start the Day Off Write

OK, so you can see by the time that I'm not exactly starting early today. Mark and I read the paper very leisurely, then had a nice brunch, and then wandered through a new store (and found some stuff for the new apartment - July will not be here soon enough). And then I had some other things to take care of for Chorus. So now here I am with a few hours of time to write today. If I get really inspired, I'll extend the time. But otherwise I'm thinking I'll shoot for four hours and a couple thousand words. That should be good for a Sunday.

So chatting with Linda got me thinking about my teaching experience. I've tried not to think about those three months for the most part. It's still very fresh and close. But Friday night I started to think about the students I had left behind. That was the hardest part about deciding to leave - knowing I'd be leaving those kids behind. I got to thinking about one student in particular. She was in the school's special ed program. She had ADHD (or whatever they call it now) and a rough background. She had given me a few problems, but nothing more than the occasional absence and tardy and talking in class. She didn't like to do her work and often didn't hand in her work if she did complete it. During parent teacher conferences, I got to meet this student's mother. And I understood quite a bit more about the situation. That mother got into a shouting match in front of me and made the student cry. That was one of the many times I felt powerless to truly do anything of worth for my kids. From that moment on, I worked even harder with this student to help her out. A few weeks later, the student was suspended for getting in a fight. During the suspension, we had an intervention involving the student, the mother, all the her teachers, and an assistant principal. And I found out that not only had the student attended my class far more regularly than any other (she had only five unexcused absences in my class but an average of 14 in the others), but she also paid me lots more respect than she did the other teachers. She didn't speak out or call me names like she did in the other classes. This was just a few days before I quit, so about two months into the school year. I had no idea that this student had such markedly different behavior in my class. I was stunned. And I immediately felt awful for leaving her, but I had to or else I would have seriously made myself ill. If I could have found some way to make that job work for the rest of the year, I would have, just for that student. She was in a crisis scenario where one more bad step would send her to an alternative school that would have made things very difficult for her and may have pushed her even further into the ground. It tears me up knowing that I could have really helped her just by being there, but I had to leave for my own health and sanity. I'll never forget her change in attitude on my last day when I told her class I was leaving. That was the only time she had even approached the level of bad behavior that she exhibited in all my other classes.

I'm sure there will be many times when I remember similar experiences from those three months. Times when I was so close to helping a kid in some small or big way. And the realization that I couldn't last long enough to complete that assistance will haunt me in small and big ways. I don't think I will ever regret leaving the public education system. But I will always regret that I had to leave those kids. It doesn't matter that I staying would have continued to drain my health and sanity. It doesn't matter that my dwindling mental and physical well-being might have had a far more negative impact on those kids than my leaving did. Some of those kids just needed me to be there, trying my best to help, and that was enough for them.

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