I have been meaning to write about this for the past two weeks, but have had a difficult time putting everything I'm thinking and feeling into words...While I'm still not sure I'll be able to find the right words, I figure I better at least give it a try. This post is a little long, but please indulge me--I have a lot to say...
There are many MANY challenging students in every grade at my school. As Mrs. Mentor Teacher says, "it's no picnic" in any of our rooms. This year I have a wonderful class, but since August I have been writing about one student who is particularly challenging, my student who is both prone to emotional outbursts (like calling me racist with no context whatsoever), who occasionally storms out of the room/runs away, and also cannot read (at all). He has been my biggest challenge since August, and taken up SO much of my time, working with him 1 on 1 in the classroom, at lunch, and after school, not to mention the lengthy RTI meetings...
Slightly less challenging, but also difficult at times was another student with whom I got off to a rough start, but later decided he could trust me, after which our relationship significantly improved. I'm talking about the student who decided immediately that he didn't like me because he happened to be the only African American student at his table, who liked to lay pouting on the floor from time to time, and, oh yeah, who brought a bb gun to school. We have had our fair share of moments as well...
All that being said, I grew to LOVE these two students over the past few months. When I realized how much baggage they were carrying and how challenging they had the potential to be, I made it my absolute priority to earn their trust and build a strong relationship with them right off the bat. As the principal with whom I student taught said, above all, teachers need to get their students to like them, because if a student likes you, he'll do ANYTHING for you. I quickly realized how true that was. And as I could see I was beginning to capture their hearts, they were absolutely capturing mine.
Coming back from winter break was like entering a completely different classroom. You see, both of these boys moved over break. In my building, students move constantly. When you think about low-performing schools, not everyone realizes how difficult it is to separate income and ability. Low-income schools by nature tend to have transient populations--families move suddenly as jobs appear and disappear, leases run out, families are forced to move in with other familiy members...the list goes on. This means kids are pulled out of school and plopped somewhere new. Often they miss weeks of school in between. What does this mean? They fall further and further behind, not to mention the added difficulty of starting an intervention program.
I'm used to kids moving. But when I found out that slightly-less-difficult student was moving, it was like a punch in the stomach. What? You're kidding, I told Mr. Principal when he passed on the news. After all our hard work building a relationship, after all the progress we'd made, he was MOVING???
Just as I began to make my peace with that, not three days later when most-challenging-student didn't show up for school on the last day before winter break, the second bomb dropped. After a little detective work and a few calls to Mom, we found out that the family had already moved out of their house, and moved in with family in a neighboring suburb. They are currently not enrolled in any school, and administration is still trying to get in touch with them to figure out whcih school they should be enrolling at.
I literally cried Friday (before break) when I left school, digesting this news. This student has brought me to tears before, and not in the "I hate him so much I could quit" way. More in the, "Your life is so sad and your heart is so good and there is so little I can do to help you" type of way. I came to love this student this year, and grew infinitely as a professional because of him. He is so needy, and has been through so much. Dad's not around, mom has a questionable job that involves working nights, and he's been at school after school after school. He had finally begun making a little growth, and we finally had an RTI program in place with plans to evaluate for an IEP after just a few more weeks of data were collected. We had truly bonded.
And then he moved. What's going to happen to him? I keep wondering. Actually, I'm almost certain I know what's going to happen to him...and that's the scary part. No matter how hard the teachers at his new school will work, he will likely move again, and again. He will fall even further behind, and eventually become so frustrated that he can neither read nor add that he will drop out of school. He will likely join a gang, and then...who knows. It is literally tearing me to pieces. I love this child. I did everything I could for him while he was in my room, and it was nowhere near enough, and nowhere near what he needed. And now he's gone, and I can't do anymore.
And while my classroom was more orderly and quiet today, while no one talked back or needed my constant undivided attention, it felt...empty. The rational part of me says that this will mean I can spend so much more time with my other low learners who got lost in the shuffle before. And that's true. But...somehow that just doesn't make me feel better.