I am new educator, only 2 1/2 years under my belt and so I am an idealist. I still believe that I can save the world; one child at a time. Sure, some teachers share that belief but wiser or more grounded teachers may shake their heads. It is a belief I hold in high regards for how I approach my classroom and yet this year taught me a little too soon that sometimes, no matter what you do, and who you reach out to; you cannot save them all.
An irritated mother approached me on orientation day with a nice looking boy in tow; she introduced herself and then the child, who was to be one of my students, let's call him Peter. We chatted for as bit and I tried to share my hopes for the coming 4th grade year, mom quickly shook her head and told me, "Good luck with this one, he doesn't care about anything." The boy's smile quickly faded and I was dumbstruck. Wow - usually parents share their concerns privately, never in front of the child we are trying to teach. I shrugged it off, vowing that the parent's obvious frustration with her child would not leach into my relationship with him.
Once school started, it was clear that Peter was very depressed, riddled with anxiety, and so defiant that even tasks he had looked forward to were greeted with an immediate refusal when asked to participate. As I watched him slip further into the grips of depression; strange behaviors cropped up and finally suicidal thoughts were spoken of. Medications were changed, counselors were called, conference upon conference with the parents were had. I tried to engage Peter in all of our discussions; after all it was his life we were debating. And yet, when asked what he would prefer the answer was a shrug and an "I don't know." However, I was not going to give up, after all this is what I am born to do - change lives.
What do you do when the life you are trying to change does not want to be changed? I tried all the tricks I could think of; we praised, we had behavior charts, we took away homework, we stressed therapy, and constantly met with my team to discuss new options. Nothing worked. He participated less and less and became a massive distraction to the rest of the class. Toward the end of the year he was often in the office, were he had asked to be put so that he did not have to be in the classroom. On the last day of school he was suspended at 11 AM for inappropriate internet behavior and his dad came and picked him up; the disappointment showing like a banner held high.
School has now been out almost 2 weeks and yet he is the one I keep coming back to in my thoughts. How did I fail him as well, just as those who had come before me? Why was I not able to reach him? And most importantly, what happens now? How will this affect me in the coming years? There are students we never forget, no matter whether we want to or not. I will not forget Peter, sure the worry about his well-being will ease over time, but the wondering will not...I still believe that I can save the world one child at a time but maybe that is just an illusion.