A Candle of Inspiration...
The Light In Our Lives
by Pamela Owen
During the summer, we as teachers, each prepare for the upcoming school year in different ways. The number of ways is usually in direct correlation with that individual teacher and their personalities and work ethics. Some sit and wait until they attend the first professional day of the year to embark on plans for the students that will be arriving in the next few days; others plan consciously or unconsciously continuously. I must admit that I have used both ways to prepare, as well as mixed the styles depending on circumstances concerning my summer life. Summertime brings many different facets to our lives, some are scheduled adventures, and some are not quite what we visualized at the end of the previous school year. One question that arises in summer: Will I be, or am I excited to venture into the year ahead. Am I ready?
This summer started like any other, maybe even a little better. I was more or less "pleasantly stuck" playing nursemaid to my husband while he recuperated from foot surgery. My entire summer off, has been depleted while playing chauffeur, secretary, nurse and essentially, the galloping gopher for him. During this time, I have been thinking about the coming school year and what I can do to get a quality jump start. What will it take to explode that "fire" in their eyes and put a desire to learn all about computers in their young, imaginative, and rather reluctant brains? While on downtime waiting for my next set of instructions, I have diligently searched the Internet and textbooks for new and exciting things to do with my students. This year, as in previous years, my main goal is once again to make the subject interesting enough to keep their short attention spells! I want them to learn all they can about computers, how they work, the applications available to them. So much of what they learn will follow them into their uncertain future. Planning is the first stage, but I have come upon another area that is certainly valuable, but not one that is normally considered, or delt with. It was brought to my attention by a tragedy.
Today, I helped bury a former student from a previous school at which I taught. I did not have the privilege or pleasure to teach Danielle, but I did have the good fortune to get to know her on a personal level. She would stroll into my classroom with a smile on her face. She had the ability to light up everyone's day. She had a bounce in her step, like she was happy to see me, and I was the doing her a favor by talking to her. She always had a kind word or a hug when she expected that I needed one. That school year was a rather rough one for me. I had a collection of personal woes that ranged from administrative problems to health problems. Danielle had the uncanny knack of reading me and knowing just how to make me feel better. I know I was special to her and she really cared about what I was feeling. I don't think she ever realized that she brightened so many of my days. Danielle just didn't think that way. She was very unique. Most eighth graders minds do not relate to the fact that teachers are real people with real feelings. Most students at this age are self-centered, and have little time for anyone but themselves. This is not a criticism, but a fact of nature, within this age group. Danielle was different. She existed as if the only true goal in her life was to reach out to others and make a positive difference in their lives. I have watched her calm the "break-up" fears of her girlfriends, offering a solid shoulder, a listening ear and carefully worded advice. I have watched her smile at a student that was new to our school, speak to them introducing herself and make the offer of help if they needed it. She included those students standing right outside of her circle of friends, those students that want to belong, that want to be noticed, but rarely are, so they might not feel left out. I have not ever heard anyone speak ill of this young lady. Everyone loved the brilliance of Danielle. Her candle lit the world, just a little brighter for those who had the privilege of knowing her.
Today, I watched in sadness and grief as the church filled with so many people, young and old alike. Everyone gathered to say goodbye to this beautiful, special, kind 17-year-old young lady. Danielle was (and I know that this is politically incorrect to say) murdered by her boyfriend early last Sunday morning. I knew her executioner, he was also a student in my class during Middle School, as well as a classmate of my daughter. This young man was not the type of student normally found in my class or thankfully, in any school. He was a good-looking boy, small for his age, with a smile that went from ear to ear, when you were lucky enough to see it; but, he also showed traits of being self-centered, irresponsible, irritable and terribly spoiled. The unattractive traits of being self-centered, irresponsible, irritable and spoiled are somewhat normal for an eighth grader. Let's face it, growing up is tough and adolescence is a trip most of us do not want to take again. This young man took bad traits to the extreme. He acted like the world owed him something. He pulled the worst temper tantrums when told the word "no". I felt as if I was dealing with a two-year-old. Often I wondered, "What was this students problem"? I honestly can say that I always have put forth much effort to like, or at least understand my students. I am not here to just teach, but to help in anyway I can. This student was a real challenge. I went through the normal channels of talking to the counselor and referring him for consultation. I talked to the assistant principal, principal and yes, I had numerous, dreaded, parent conferences with his parents; as did the rest of his teachers. Of course, the conferences always ended, no matter what the circumstances, in it being the teacher's, principals or other student's fault. He never accepted any blame. There are only so many conferences, before one knows it is time to give up. I put him on the back burner of my school life and prayed daily that he would not act up and "go after" anyone during the school day. I hoped that I would not have to be confronted by his anger and rudeness if things did not go his way. I looked forward to the days that he was absent so I would not have to have the hallway confrontation in front of the lockers outside of my room where he would yell, beat his fists and threaten anyone and everyone he felt had caused him problems. Sunday, I was hit full force with a horrible case of the "What Ifs." What would have happened if I had spent just one more week, day or minute working with him? Could I have made a difference? Would Danielle still be alive? Had I failed this student and in turn failed Danielle? Upon a lot of soul searching and reflection, I know I did not fail this student. I tried my best; but kept running up against parental denial. They wanted to be a friend to their child, instead of a disciplinarian.
Now, as I sit here working on my lesson plans for the year, I have made the solemn vow to always try one more time. I will not let that unbearable parent get in the way. Hopefully, with God's help, I can find a way to help the parent see that their child might need outside help, that they need to pay attention to the warning signs, like depression, anger, silence, etc. Sometimes parents need to stop looking at the little boy, and see that adolescence is not always innocent pranks. Teachers are not always the enemy, but they have their own families, and cannot mentor students day in and day out. A parent must take control, be more observant, and obtain help before its too late. I am going to do my best to help prevent any other Danielle's from losing their young lives. I hope all teachers everywhere will join me in this vow. If we can reach one child, save one child, then we have been successful. We may never know what student's life we made a difference in, but we have to keep trying, no matter the outcome.
Danielle, we love you and will miss you, but we will never forget you. Thank you for being the one to encourage me, for being there when the teacher needed a hug, needed encouragement. We aren't much different when it comes to emotional needs, maybe older, maybe younger, mentor or student, but we all have needs. Thank you once again, for the privilege of knowing you, and knowing when you could light up your teacher's life. You have lit mine permanently.