Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The One I Couldn't Save

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.


Luke said...

One of the toughest realities any new teacher has to face is that we can't save or reach them all. Don't let it become a yearly guilt-trip. It may sound harsh, but at some point you need to be able to look at the situation and say, "It's not my problem, it's his(hers)." Good luck!

KCL said...

I haved experienced this too many times to say. "
Maybe it stops at the moment where we meet the parent. Maybe teachers should be allowed more support to be honest. But we are not therapists, priests, gurus, or vigilantes. All I can say is, collect the good, the positive, the real, more than you gather the sorrow. Keep your idealism. I have held my tongue when I wish I could have told a parent "you are having some real trouble with the most important job in the world...need help?"

Paul Bogush said...

Great post...for some reason it reminds me of this video:

linda704 said...

If you know in your heart that you did everything possible (and it sounds like you did) then you need to let it go and not eat at you. I'm sure at some level you made a difference for Peter that neither one of you are able to identify right now. Keep the faith. Students are counting on it!

Liz Becker said...

You may have accomplished more than you think. Sometimes when we try to do our best to help out a student, we don't see the results quite the way we expect. I had a difficult situation with a student that involved meetings, behavior interventions, and many tough days in the classroom. I thought I had failed and gotten no where with him, and I was sure he just plain hated me...until he showed up at my classroom door a year after he left school. He had come back to say thank you. I learned an important lesson that day. You may not see the results of your hard work and if you do they may not be quite what you expect. But remember that what you do everyday DOES matter to your students. They do notice that you care, even if they won't acknowledge it. Your efforts may prepare them to be helped by the next person down the line. What you do is important. Keep fighting the good fight.

chris said...

This is a struggle that many teachers experience because of their caring nature and harboring the hope that every child can learn. Unfortunately that is not the reality. Over my 20 plus years of teaching I have come into contact with a number of students fitting Peter's profile. I can only do what is possible as a teacher and provide them with a safe environment in the classroom and hope that the individual can make the best out of the opportunities that I provide. One thing I am unable to do is change them. A powerless feeling as many a teacher want to make a difference in their student's lives. Cherish the positives and even though you may not be recognized as making a difference you are.


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