He sighed as he shook his head in agreement. He concurred with me that his grade and motivation in class was a failure. He said he realized that if he didn’t do the work he would fail and put his graduation in jeopardy. He didn’t really commit to doing much to improve it. Then he went on his way. He was really frustrating to me because he was always engaged in discussion, knew what was going on, and very bright. It was also my second time having him as a student, so I had gotten to know him and like him. He concerned me a bit because he even though he was a typically happy person, he had undercurrents of sadness. However, having the “you’re-failing-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it” conversation is fairly routine for me, and as I watched him leave I hoped that he would do something, anything. My next class arrived and I pushed our little grade pow-wow to the back of my mind.
After school I received a call from the office: the boy was missing. He had ditched the rest of school, drove home, and his parents found all of his belongings, his car, and a note that read, “I’m sorry.” There was not a trace of him around. The parents, rightly worried about the cryptic–possible suicide– note, called the police and the school. I was the last person who had spoken to him. I told his parents about our grade conversation, but I could provide little help about where he was. Like everyone, I felt helpless and wondered what he might be doing to himself; his note lead me to the worst conclusion. Sick-at-heart, I went home.
The next morning I asked the office if they had heard anything; they hadn’t. I asked them to contact me if he was on campus; I used my prep period to talk to his counselor about him and to have him pulled out (if he was there) to give him an opportunity to talk about what was going on. I was on edge.
I was both relieved and dumbstruck when he be-bopped into class laughing and joking with his friends. He was his happy-go-lucky self all period. After class I pulled him aside and asked what happened. “You know,” he began, “I was really disappointed in myself, so I went home, wrote my parents a note, and then ran to the gym to work out my frustration.” I stared and clarified, “You ran?” He swung his arms in a running motion, “Yeah, I ran.” That explained why the car was at home.
Once I realized that he had been okay and bench pressing while the thoughts of his safety and life pressed upon my mind, and that his only problem was having the common sense of a teenager, I lit into him. I recounted the previous afternoon from my point of view, told him my worst imaginings and how he had been on my mind since then, and the next time he writes his parents a note to please add “BTW@gym” on it. It was his turn to look dumbstruck as he said, “I’m sorry.”
The last day of school arrived and he was still failing. I grimaced at the grade book– another bright kid with potential chucking it. My students filed in, and he with them. Unlike the others in jeans and sweaters, he wore dress slacks, a pressed shirt with a tie, and polished shoes. He walked up to my desk with a pile of papers. “I did all of my work. I have my research essay and I’m ready to present it if I can.” I practically pushed him to the front of the class so he could get started right away. He presented well and it was obvious he had prepared for it. I flipped through his work; not only had he completed all of it, but had put thought and effort into it. Most of the time when students turn in late work, they rush through it and it shows. I could only imagine how many all-nighters he pulled to do it. To put it mildly, I was overjoyed. Students teach teachers to be disappointed and jaded; many who are failing make grandiose promises, but only do the bare minimum to pass if they do that at all. He was a wish come true.
I was already over-whelmed by his actions, but then I read his reflection of the class that ended with, “I want to thank my English teacher for showing me that somebody cares about me.” Thank goodness they were watching a movie and didn’t see my tears.