Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sometimes A Teacher Can Only Do So Much

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG TEACHER, seventh and eighth graders in my classes often came to me for advice. I helped everyone I could; but no matter how much I cared, I knew there were times I could only do so much.

(By the end of my career, when I was much older I would be having the same feeling, advising concerned young parents.)

One day, Kara stopped by after school to chat. She had told me before, I was her favorite teacher. Now something was obviously bothering her. I assured her she had my support. Kara took a deep breathe and plunged into her story. She was sleeping with one of the high school boys.

Even worse, though she wasn’t speaking directly for Dominique, she hinted that her friend, another student of mine, was also sleeping with an older boy.

I talked to Kara for the next hour, and tried to give any advice I could about how she might straighten out her life.

Finally, I promised to talk to our counselor, who would help in any way she could. But I was worried about the two girls and sad to realize there wasn’t much I could do except listen.

A teacher plays the cards he's dealt.
Those cards aren't necessarily good.
I couldn’t hold back the sexual tides and we had tried and failed to bring parents into the mix already. Teachers had been hearing rumors about drinking, drugs and sex for months; and we had heard that Kara and Dominique collapsed after a recent party. Several of us met with Dominique's mom to express concern. Mom wasn’t prepared to face reality. She said the girls had eaten too much pizza and drunk too much pop. That’s why they were sick. As for Kara, she hadn't seen her father in five years and her single mom didn’t bother to show up for the conference we scheduled.

TOO OFTEN that was my experience. If you called home about students who were hurting most, you found yourself in a box canyon where family was no help and all you could do was back out and search for another path through the treacherous mountains.

It was a sad situation and now all I could do was try to mitigate the damage. Kara had college potential and might save herself eventually. Dominique was less talented but knew how to express her feelings in writing, though she did not “write” particularly well.

 Earlier that year, she wrote about her life in an essay for my class:

My Brother Devin

My brother is 17 and needs a lot of our attention. If we don’t give it to him its just going to mess him up agin. Devin is a real junky, pot head, etc., he’ll really have to work hard on his problem if he wents a normal life. He dosen’t care about his family at all, could care less if we were alive. The only way he would notice that we were dead is he wouldn’t get no money. He dosen’t show his feelings, he’s about 5' 9" or 6' he weights about 145 which he used to weigh about 180 until he got adickted to speed. When I’m around my friend I say I hate him and wish he would die but I know deep inside I love him very much.

My Own Family

When I grow up I went a family that will stay togather not get into fights. I went to have our own house it dosen’t have to be a place, but a good shelter. I went what is best for my family. I went my family to go to parks and got to grill outs and have fun wherever they go.
My children will have disaplin when they need it, but they will be loved all the time.
I went my husband to take me places, but if this is not what he wents we’ll both have to change a little to do what we both went.

You could feel the pain in every word. I know we hear a lot about teaching the “basics,” but this was one time I knew better than to correct Dominique's spelling and syntax. I wanted the ideas to keep coming and told her only that she should not mix “went” for “want.”

Kara  and her mom moved before school year ended and I heard no more from her for several years. Dominique struggled with addiction and barely made it through eighth grade and then went on to high school. Three years later Kara stopped by my room after school to say hello again. She was a junior now, attending  school in a different district, and said she was doing much better. “I don’t do all the drugs,” she explained. She thanked me for listening and trying to help when she was young. Then she said she was going down to see our counselor.

Our counselor had done everything possible to assist both young ladies, at the time, and she filled me in later on her conversation with Kara. Dominique was a mess, according to her old friend. Her mom let her smoke pot at home to avoid getting busted and told her to stay out all night if she had been drinking rather than risk a car accident coming home.

A FEW MONTHS later I heard that Dominique was pregnant. The father was another former student, a nice enough fellow, but just about the last young man you would pick to start a family, while you were still a teenager, if you wanted your children to be able to go to parks and have grill outs and fun in your back yard in the years to come. 

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