Return to Work
Today was the first day back to school after the winter break. Generally this day would be a fresh new start, and usually the students are ready to get back into the swing of things and back to work. In other words, teachers generally get a little honeymoon period (3 to 4 days) before things revert back to normal - disinterested students, nagging parents, overbearing administrators.
Well today wasn't that day. Early New Years day, one of the students at the school I teach at was brutally beaten to death with a brick. The perpetrators of the crime were a former student and 2 current students from my school. I never taught the student who was the victim, but I knew him from seeing him around the halls of the building. On the other hand, last year, I taught the student who was the main aggressor in the incident. When I saw the news reports about the crime I was really shocked and saddened to hear about the students involved.
Now you need to understand, as a teacher in an inner-city high school, I've taught many students who "make the news" in similar fashion. I've taught students who were arrested for violent crimes. I've taught students who were murdered, and others who were arrested for murder. So this isn't a new experience for me. But this case took me off guard. The student I taught who was arrested for the crime was truly such a nice kid. He was respectful and polite both in and out of the classroom. And he was a very hard worker. This was a kid who always struggled at math - his entire life. And he really struggled in my class first semester as well. But he kept working away at things - he never gave up. Then, second semester, something happened and things really began to click for him. He really got what we were doing in class and he was clearly enjoying it too. This kid stands out because he was so demonstrative of his appreciation for what he was learning and of his enjoyment for the class. It was a joy to behold. Teaching is not a profession with many tangible rewards, but it is those kinds of experiences that make teaching the profession I love so much. So seeing this story on the news really threw me off kilter.
I don't know many of the details of the incident, so I have no idea what set this young man off to such brutal violence - not this boy who I always experienced as kind and gentle. I don't know in what way he was the "leader" in the aggression as the news media is reporting. I only know that this young man is in jail today, and is look forward to a lengthy prison sentence. Sure, lots of kids were talking today - but without any real information. Those students in a position to really know the details weren't in school today and that is probably a good thing.
As you can probably imagine, things were oddly quiet and subdued in school today on this, our first day back from the holiday break. Hushed conversations with rumors flying were the norm. Some students were oppenly weeping in class, while others were confused and were having difficulty dealing with their emotions in reacting to the weekend events. Meanwhile emotionally stressed teachers were working hard to keep everythign calm and running with the appearance of a semblance of normality. Over all it was a rather surreal process.
And now the job of getting things back to normal begins. Schools are resiliant institutions, and it wont take that long for it to happen. But for now I still feel a little bewildered, a little off my game. It's a bitter start to the new year.