A Week of Sorrow

This week has been the most difficult week of my teaching career. I know I have been teaching only three years and have many more years to go before I can retire, but I know this will remain one of the most difficult times of my career.

I thought it was difficult to find out that I will be losing my job at the end of the school year due to cuts in the school system. It hurt, because I love my job. My school is also closing because they built two new schools in town, so all of the teachers I work with will be split up and spread amongst the new and the old that are kept open. Such a great staff will not be together for much longer.

But it was this week that the staff suffered a tragedy that no one should have to face. It is hard enough when a school loses a student due to an accident or illness. But it is another thing all together when the student commits suicide.

This student, who shall remain nameless because of his tender age of fourteen, was in my homeroom and book club. He was on my team, and I saw him daily. Every morning he would walk through my room with his headphones blasting so loudly I have no idea how he had any hearing left. I could be at my computer desk and know the instant he was ABOUT to enter the room from the opposite doorway. It was that loud.

I got the call Tuesday night and I was devastated. I never expected something like this to happen. He was not bullied. He was a well loved student who many looked up to or were friends with. Teachers loved him as well. He was bright. He loved poetry. He was an advanced reader who enjoyed Dante’s Inferno and could discuss the translator’s style with me. He was gothic in the true, original sense of the word, and loved all the literature that accompanied the style.

Wednesday morning I had to read a short announcement to my homeroom about the loss. I broke down crying. My homeroom, of course, already knew. They were all friends with him. I have never known a silence to be that pervasive. My homeroom is never quiet, but they were for the entire Flex period. I almost wanted to beg them to say something, make some sort of noise to shatter that silence, but they didn’t. They could barely even look at his seat.

The school did so well with handling the students and staff. A crisis team was called in to offer support for students, and each of the teachers of my team had a sub in the room with them in case they needed to step out and grieve. It was wonderful to have another adult in the room with me. Even though I was okay for most of the day, just knowing someone else was ready to take over if I needed it was help enough.

Friday evening was his wake. The teachers on my team went together as support for each other, the family, and our students. I stayed the entire three hours with two of my fellow team members. The right shoulder of my shirt was soaked by the time it was finished. Students I never thought I would see cry broke down and hugged me tightly. Other students came up and hugged me, told me it was okay for me to cry, that they understood I was being strong for them and that they were there for me, too. That made me tear up. It’s wonderful to know how much the kids care.

I have had a hard time processing everything. I wanted to write about the experience, but I just couldn’t find the right words. When I finally did, I wrote a poem. It’s five pages long in my poetry journal. It felt good to get the words out onto the page, and perhaps I’ll share it later. But for now, I’ll keep it close until the time is right.

Suicide is never the answer. So many people are left behind hurt and confused. Maybe it’s selfish of us to want the person to stay when they are in so much pain, but that pain will not last. It will get better. It DOES get better.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, PLEASE get help. There is always someone out there to talk to. Someone will listen. Tell a trusted adult. Call a hotline.

If you are in Connecticut, you can call the United Way of Connecticut Crisis Hotline by simply dialing 211.

There is also the National Hopeline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

Or The National Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Please. Get help. It Gets Better, no matter who you are.

Speaking out against bullying

I am writing this post as a teacher.

I am also writing this post as the victim of bullying.

Once again my television is telling me that another teenager has taken her life because she was bullied. It doesn’t matter whether she is a lesbian or not. What matters is how senseless this tragedy is, and how preventable it can be. According to the news, as she lay in critical condition in the hospital, the bullying continued on her Facebook page. How can people be so cruel?

I’ve heard some adults say that “bullying is a right of passage” or that “kids will be kids.” But it’s wrong. No matter what way it is looked at, making another person feel inferior for ANY reason – be it their sexuality, gender, religion, ethnic background, clothing, hair color, whatever – is wrong. So very, very wrong.

My bullying started when I was in the eighth grade. In homeroom, every single morning, one of the guys who sat next to me spit on me. I don’t know what I did. It could have been my glasses. Maybe even my jeans (my family didn’t have much, and I wore KMart or Caldor’s brand clothing instead of Abercrombie, which was cult-like at the time). Could it have been my hair? I wondered if maybe I even smelled bad, though they never said that. I don’t remember one of my bullies’ names. And I don’t even remember the name of the teacher who watched, day by day, as this happened, and not once said a single word. My mother now asks me why I never told her. My response? “Because the teacher didn’t stop it, so I figured no one would help.”

I’ve told this story to my students, and I remind them whenever a bullying issue comes up. I will not tolerate any form of bullying in my classroom. I cannot stand by and watch one of my students being harassed by another student because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be made to feel inferior. And no one has the right to do that to another person. I truly feel my students pain when they tell me how they feel when it happens.

I’m proud to say I’ve seen changes. But it’s not enough. More adults need to take this stand as well. If you see kids harassing another kid who is visibly upset, please, step in and help them. Be the responsible person and get help for them. If someone you know is being bullied or you fear they might be, talk to them. Do something about it.

Kids look to adults for guidance. They look to us as role models. Maybe if we really push and take a stand against bullying, they will finally realize that it’s wrong and has serious, harmful side effects.