The worst part about being a teacher

So another student I used to teach has died of a drug overdose.  What does this make it?  Number five? Six?  It doesn’t matter because one was too many.  This is sad (she said in an absurd statement of the obvious).  I know his family is devastated, his friends shocked (or not shocked at all), and if he had a girlfriend or a best pal, they feel responsible.

As a teacher, I learned a long time ago not to get too involved emotionally with students.  Every year there is a new crop… like Updike says in a short story I used to teach and the name of which I forget, teaching exposes you to “the many-headed hydra of youth.”  It’s easy to get to know some of the kids, to let them get under your skin.  Think of them as “yours.”  I had to clear my mind of such ideas, else I break my heart every May.

I teach 7th grade now, so it’s not too hard to put that philosophy into practice.  The students still look to their parents for the majority of their guidance, and they still maintain somewhat of a lower school mindset that I, as their teacher, go into a box at the end of the day, only to emerge the next morning ready to teach them again.

When I taught high school, it was harder.  They were nearly grown, their lives spreading out before them like a cloak over muddy puddles, and they could see me as a fellow human being, someone with actual advice worth listening to.  I got attached many times, and worked hard to help these kids make the right college choice… I even threatened a favorite student once… told him I’d never speak to him again outside of the classroom if he didn’t apply to a certain school!  Then threatened the same again when he said he didn’t want to bother visiting that school.  Oh yeah, he picked it after all.  Of course he did.  I knew what I was talking about.  I was attached to him and was quite vehemently concerned about him, his welfare, his future (he’s teaching college now, so high five to me!)

But there were those other kids who sank, who fell, who wallowed in the filth of their own choices, and some of them died, and there was nothing I could do but watch and grieve and it really truly sucked.  I got better at staying concerned but not attached.  I got a little calloused.  You pay a price when you do that… You miss out on a lot of real connection and long-term friendships.  You miss out on that pure joy when your beloved student gets his PhD and you can say, “And I helped!” (your hands covered with flour)

So this latest student apparently was known for being a druggy.  He didn’t have that rep when I taught him in middle school.  He was a stubborn, ornery cuss, and he went his own way, to his own demise.  He was always in trouble, but he was also always smiling.  You know, there’s a difference in the students who are malicious in their disobedience… who see the teachers and authority figures as enemies… and those who just do what they want, and don’t take it personally when they get in trouble.  This latest kid was like that.  He never ceased being a little jerk, but when I sent him out, he was always smiling.  And I smiled back.

Will I miss him?  Well, I didn’t think too much about him after he left middle school.  He didn’t come back and visit.  Few do. That’s one of the things you lose when you stop getting involved in the students personally.  They never visit… and you never seek them out. It’s a pity… but then again, it spares me a lot of pain in the end.  Is that selfish?  I guess it is.  I can live with that.

I’m not going to go into the whole maelstrom of “Oh but if only I could have talked to him…”  Others did.  Teachers he really was close to.  It didn’t change anything.  I think the drug has more influence over some… and there it is.  As William Gibson says in Zero History, “Addictions… started out like magical pets, pocket monsters.  They did extraordinary tricks, showed you things you hadn’t seen, were fun.  But came, through some gradual dire alchemy, to make decisions for you.  Eventually, they were making your most crucial life-decisions.  And they were… less intelligent than goldfish.”

So RIP, former student.  Welcome to my list.  It’s a short list, but too long by far.


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4 Responses to “The worst part about being a teacher”

  1. MJH Says:

    See the one in the middle, with the big stupid grin? Yeah, he was mine. Nobody was surprised.

  2. Kristina Says:

    Speaking of old students, guess who came back to my dance classes? Lorna. With her mom. Lorna is married and she and her husband own a funeral home…yet she’s still the same 🙂

  3. How I Spent My Last Cent on School Supplies | Diana Beebe Writes Says:

    […] Caruthers tells it like it shouldn’t be from a teacher’s […]

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