Throughout this year I’ve experienced plenty of things here in Durham that I wouldn’t have ever imagined seeing elsewhere. This week especially has brought a lot of stress to my heart.

Monday afternoon an emergency staff meeting was called to inform everyone that a fifth grade student passed away over the weekend. It was so surprising to hear, and I can’t even imagine how the teachers who knew him or had him in class felt. I can’t imagine how these students feel, this child’s friends — or how his parents and family members feel.

All of this is just unimaginable to me.

I didn’t know this particular student personally, but I know a few other fifth graders who help out in the library or at recess with the younger grade levels. I was walking my class to lunch today and we passed the fifth graders going to recess and one of the students I knew just came up to me and gave me a hug. As soon as I got my arms around him, he just started sobbing and didn’t say a word the whole time. I could feel this pit of jumbled words rise in my throat and tears hang on my lashes.

This is what it means to be a teacher: you are more than just a teacher.

I’ve always known this and I am frequently a mom, a nurse, an animal expert, a nutritionist, a coach, a librarian, a storyteller, a lawyer, a female Bill Nye (direct quote from a student), and almost daily I’m a counselor. Today more than ever I realized how crucial that is to my job.

The students I teach have so much going on in their lives — some don’t have homes, some don’t know their dads, some aren’t treated lovingly at home, some have parents who tell them that they’re stupid and won’t amount to anything (I don’t know how you could ever tell a child that, but people actually say that to their kids — it disgusts me). I feel like I’m counseling in some way or another every single day, but in this moment on the sidewalk en route to lunch where words were superfluous just really drove this home for me.

I know I teach students according to the Common Core and Essential Standards and that’s what they’re tested on, but more importantly I teach students things like mediating situations and working together and this week, coping with loss.

The amount of respect and admiration I have for the faculty and staff who had to tell those fifth grade students that one of their classmates passed away is huge. If it were one of my students who passed away, I truly don’t know if I would be able to stay composed and strong like you for my other students. Thank you for your poise and dedication to those students, and your understanding of their emotions.

All of the heartbreak and tragedy that I’ve seen manifest in the lives of some of these kids is simply unbelievable. I’m constantly reminding myself how desperate they are for consistency and unconditional love, and to me those are things that get kids (and adults) through times like these.


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