“I had gone off to be a teacher, asking myself from time to time if I could teach English in such a way that people would stop killing each other.” -Mary Rose O’Reilley
As soon as I came across this quote in Peter H. Johnston’s book, Choice Words, I immediately related to it, which then caused me to feel alienated. You see, this book had been assigned as a school-wide PLC read. Aside from being one of the few that would complain about having to READ A BOOK (English teachers, anyone?), I also knew that the next day we would have to discuss this reading. I knew I would bring up this quote. I knew commotion would stir as everyone discussed what a preposterous notion this was.
OF COURSE we can’t stop murder. OF COURSE we can’t change the whole world. OF COURSE we can’t save them all.
Does the fact that we can’t change reality mean we shouldn’t still try? Does the possibility of not reaching one hundred percent success prevent you from setting a goal in the first place?
I read all of that before it seemed real–the “killing” part, at least. It was before everything changed.
I saw his name flash by on another student’s Facebook status closely followed by words like too soon, I love you, rest easy, etc. I quickly went over to check his page as I found myself whispering to myself, “No, no, no, no, no.” When I found his page, my worst fear was confirmed. My former student had been shot and killed the night before.
As I stared at his picture, my mind ventured back to almost everyday after school last year, my first year teaching, when this student was in my classroom.
The news story that soon followed confirmed that the altercation occurred to settle a debt of $70. He went to defend his friend, and as the other kids refused to fight, he walked away and was shot in the back.
Since that moment, just a few months ago, this quote crosses my mind almost daily. I find myself thinking, What if we talked more about violence in the classroom? If he had gone to college, would he have been in this same situation? If he was not afraid to ask questions, maybe he would have asked someone for the money or helped his friend earn it rather than attempting to settle the debt in another way. If this… if that…if only.
I know it is not healthy to think of all the things I should have done, but the truth is that I do. I believe teaching can change lives not because we know things, but because we know kids. Students want to be known, even if they don’t let on that it’s true.
I don’t only think of what I should have done, but I let it propel me into, What more can I do this time, today, this class period, for this student?
In a conversation with my 3TT friends, we were discussing “worksheet teaching.” In a very long and broad conversation, I told them another story that happened that week, and then I thought:
You have to get really close to have an impact, but getting close makes things really difficult sometimes. No wonder teachers sit at desks. There’s less skin in the game that way.
Honestly, that’s how it feels some days–like I’m scraping off tiny pieces of myself to try and fill what these kids need.
So I write to patch the scrapes, air out the wounds, and find the light breaking through the cracks.
Today I’m not writing to lament about teaching, to share war stories or anything of that nature, but just to heal.
Teachers need to write because it pieces us back together. We need to write, because others need to see our hurts to know they’re not alone.
Like Brene Brown says, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” Despite the pushes for test scores, data, and measurable growth, we teach souls every single day. Those stories need to be told.
What do you do to heal from the inevitable trials of teaching souls? Do you think teachers can “stop the killing,” or should teachers refrain from distracting themselves with such lofty aspirations? Let’s start a conversation in the comments.
Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX. She usually takes on major life events all at once rather than bit by bit, such as starting graduate school, buying a house, going to Europe, and preparing for two new classes next year. If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.
Teachers who “capture a kid’s heart will have his head” – Flip Fippen. This was always how I approached my high school students. Sometimes the rapport happened quickly, and other times it might take months, but trying is everything. We must find out what is missing in our kids’ lives, or what needs to be removed. Relevant writing, short speeches, etc. can help with this. Worksheet work will never be enough to really get to know our students.
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I agree with you, 100%! Kids need teachers like you, Melinda!
I’m still thinking about this post weeks later. ❤
This is amazing Jess! Even with the tiny school of 33 elementary students i work with, there are stories that would break hearts to know. I want so badly to just be there for them and in some cases give them the love I know they don’t get at home. They just want to know that someone cares about them and what is going on in their lives. I think it’s absolutely important to sometimes take a break from the data focus and do what these kids need
Thank you, Melissa! I’m glad to hear this hit home with you. Hope you’re doing well.
[…] They relaxed into becoming teacher-writers, which is something we all believe every teacher should make a part of her practice. […]
Yes! To writing to heal. Yes! To writing reflections of longing, hopes, and plans. Yes! To trying to reach every child. I remember hearing something at a conference (I wish I could remember who said it) about how we must do our best to acknowledge every child every day. Think about how many of our learners go throughout the day without even a nod from an adult. The shy ones, the sneaky ones, the smart kid in the corner. Every child needs to know they matter and we see them. I think that is the starting place for many of us, crowded classrooms and all that go with them.
Beautiful post, Jessica! Thank you.
Thank you, Amy! I love the addition of “the smart kid in the corner.” It’s not just all students who need love and attention, it’s each student. That’s easy to forget sometimes!
***how do we prevent the broken from getting that way?
Lives forgotten, walking aimlessly in the halls, no direction.
One child is too many to lose, be a mirror, fix their reflection.
Victory can be won by one-on-one interaction.
Every child needs seen, no time for subtraction.
***how do we heal the scars of their past?
Talk to them, while using both ears.
Heal their pain, know their biggest fears.
Elevate their needs past the needs of your own.
Make sure they are not wandering through life all alone.
***how can I give them something better?
Many children just need a chance to use their voice.
Opportunities to be great must be rejoiced.
Remind them they are strong and life can be better.
Easier still, read all the capital letters.
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This is beautiful! I might print it out and hang it by my desk. Thanks for sharing!
We do! And when we try and fail, our teacher colleagues are there to pick us back up. Keep fighting the good fight!
This post spoke to me. Thank you. We have to try to make the change even if we can’t always succeed. We have to try.