Promises To Keep.
On Wednesday, my classes were going well. Very well, in fact. So much so that I was more or less confused by it. I was doing “group work,” which often is problematic. In this case, it was productive, even in my most boisterous class. Being fair to them…they aren’t really that boisterous…part of the major difference between Middle School and High School.
At one point, while I was filling out a “Grade Check” for a student, a young lady raised her hand. When she got my attention, she made the sort of “come here” hand gesture that a rude patron might make to a waiter at a restaurant. This always bugs me…I would prefer, as the English teacher, that a question were asked. I relayed that information…to which this young lady informed me that her friend was in some medical distress.
That gets priority attention. I still don’t know what happened to that grade check form.
The young lady who had taken ill complained of dizziness, chest pain, and tingling in her left arm. While trying to call the nurse on the wall phone, I took her pulse…which was strong and easy to find…a good thing. The wall phone did not cooperate, strangely refusing to call out. Cell phone in hand, I called an administrator, to go to voice mail. Frustrated, I told a friend of hers to “run to the nurse’s office…come back with the nurse, an administrator, and a wheelchair.”
That third girl, a close friend of hers, ran like the wind. My class handled itself beautifully, respecting the need to stay calm, and my need to attend to an emergency. I told my young friend to stay calm, and she told me that she was scared. Very scared.
I told my student exactly what I would want to hear in that situation. “You’re going to be just fine. I promise. Just fine. Stay tough, and we will have a bunch of laughs about it tomorrow.”
It’s those moments where the responsibility of being a teacher is huge. This gentle young lady looks up to her teachers, and likes me. We are there to improve the students intellectually, but also, when needed, help them emotionally. In that case…I made a promise that I really couldn’t keep…I was Pretty Sure that she was having a panic attack of some kind, perhaps accompanied by some kind of siezural event…but not certain. No one was going to be conferring an M.D. on me any time soon. Still…she needed to stay confident and positive in scary circumstances, and having a person that she thinks “knows everything” tell her it was going to be okay…and promise it, mattered a whole lot.
I know it did, because she came by first thing in the morning on Thursday to tell me just that.
I actually apologized to her at that point. Once the nurse arrived, administration ordered the class and me out of the room. I requested staying with her, because she didn’t know any of the staff and was scared, but was told to stay with my class. I told her that, and that I was sorry I couldn’t stay.
“I heard the whole thing, and that you wanted to stay. It was fine, because I didn’t have anything to be scared about. You already told me it was going to be fine, and that was the best. You waited until everyone was ready, and the EMTs were there….and then, you know, the rest of the class needed you too.”
Well…knock me over with a feather when I heard that. So charming, kind, and selfless.
Her two buddies were hugely worried…they also took my assurance as The Word. It’s amazing the power and responsibility of being that adult in some young people’s lives…and I think teachers often forget that it exists.
The whole rest of Wednesday, after I watched the EMTs load her up and take her to a nearby hospital, I was pretty upset that I couldn’t stay with my student, and that I couldn’t see it through. I had no idea that a solid handshake, and the words that I would want someone to say to me when I was scared, had been such a Huge Thing. I had no idea that to that girl, I had managed to do the right thing ten times over.
I drew the art when I was feeling like I had not done my job, and failed this excellent young person. Hence the minimalist background, and the somber tone. I considered doing a second page during Thursday, to add to it and “lighten the mood” to the tone of the text of this post…but was way too busy during the day to even come up with a composition or character design for the student. As a result, we just have the existing page, and the story as relayed above…without any names at all, of course.
I think it’s an important story. I talk a great deal about policies, and day to day management issues, and the adult issues that drive class. Teachers get obsessed with that stuff, or worse, disengage from the students and deal with it like “another job.” I know more than a few teachers who have gotten to the point where they actively try to put tangible distance between them and their students. I have more students than ever before right now, and find that I work hard to maintain or improve the strength of my relationships with the youngsters.
Some days, that’s the big responsibility that matters. I think that somewhere along the process, a lot of “professionals” forget about that, and get wrapped up in Union causes and so forth…or worse, get scared of the weight of the burden that the responsibility to our students carries. It’s not just about being the expert in the content, and taking attendance.
Some days, they need you to be Superman. They are actively waiting for that Superman, even when they seem to hate us, or talk back. There’s this hope, even in the students that seem not to care, that there is an adult who can make it all right again.
The burden of that part of the job can be terrifying, but at the same time, when you take it up…it provides the best moments on the job.