Yesterday I said my final goodbye to a group of students that I have spent the last semester working with on a weekly basis. Throughout our time together, I didn’t quite get the feeling that I did with my last group of students, a class that I became quickly vested in and felt very much a part of due to a strong sense of community within their classroom. In my last weeks, I wondered just how much I was going to miss these kids, how much had I really effected them, did I ever really form bonds with them?
I wasn’t sure of any of this. Until my last day.
Keshaun wrapped his arms around me as I walked down the hallway with them. I could only stay for half the day, and was exiting the school as I walked them to lunch. Shortly after, Jaden latched on as well, and I was stumbling my way towards the office to sign out. Cries of “You can’t leave us!” and “I won’t let you go!” rang through the hallway. Sure this made me sad, and it hurt to let go of this kooky group of first graders. But I found it easy to let go of them despite the sadness.
Then I looked over at Nate, with silent tears streaming down his face. And I lost it.
Nate and I have an interesting relationship. When I first came in to this classroom, Nate was always the quiet type with a bit of an attitude. He sometimes refused to do work, or he would just kind of look at you when you asked him to do things. But in the end, he always did what he supposed to. He’s a good smart kid who put up a tough kid front.
About halfway through our time together, Nate started to change. There were less sly smiles, and he stopped walking over to where we were talking with other students. He wasn’t observing the classroom in the same way that he usually did. And I noticed that he was off. Nate just wasn’t being the Nate I had known. It came to the point where one day we were administering a spelling test. Nate usually took his fine and dandy time writing out words, sometimes waiting until the last minute before putting thought on paper. But this day was different. He hadn’t written anything at all and I knew that just wasn’t like him.
I couldn’t do anything during the test. I’m not the teacher, I can’t pause an assessment. So I waited until the test was over, and we had begun center time where I basically gained more freedom with the students and I took Nate out into the hallway.
At first he wouldn’t look at me. I asked him what was going on and he didn’t say anything. I didn’t expect him to because Nate wasn’t a talker. What was odd was that he wouldn’t even sit down at the table across from me. He didn’t smile, he didn’t look me in the eye. He just kind of wandered near by, poking around at different thing hanging on the walls. Neither of us said anything for a while. I just let him wander. Eventually he looked at me. Blank expression, but eye contact was made. I asked if he was okay. If anything was wrong or if he wanted to try and talk about something. He looked away again, then back at me. I let him know that I wasn’t going anywhere, that I would sit here as long as he needed to before he said something to me. I didn’t care what it was, I just wanted to hear him talk again.
I sat in silence, watching as he looked at the pictures hanging in the hallway. There were some paintings we had done in class the day prior. So I struck up conversation about the paintings. I dropped the idea that I would ever find out what was wrong, and I just focused on trying to get Nate back, the Nate that I knew, and that smile I knew was hiding under there somewhere. I poked, prodded, made up silly statements about random things in the hallway. I asked if he knew which painting I had done and the smile came back. Big, toothless, and reaching all the way across his face. He started looking through the paintings pointing at ones he thought it might be. He pointed silently for a while and then, “that one!” He said reaching up to a painting that I had not done.
But at that point I didn’t care, because he had spoken for the first time that day. Two words, but they were the gateway to more. I don’t know how long we sat in that hallway, but I let him spend as much time there as he needed. And eventually he began to stand near the door and I knew he was ready to get back to the class. We entered into the classroom again, and I swear everything had changed. The poor attitude from the morning was gone and Nate was back to being Nate. The rest of the afternoon, he spent finding ways to be near me. He opened up and started talking more during centers, and all the way through to the end of the day.
That wasn’t all though. From that time in the hall on, Nate and I had a very different relationship. He started talking to me more. Short concise sentences, but the came more frequently. He would tap your shoulder when you weren’t looking, then pretend he hadn’t done it at all. Or he’d randomly grab your hand, or your arm for no reason at all. Or most frequently he’d “accidentally” run in to the back of your leg, then smile like he’d done nothing wrong.
Leaving Nate was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, not just as a teacher, but as someone who hopes to help people in some way shape or form. There are so many statistics that set the odds against Nate and his success in life simply because of the situations he was born in to, not because of anything he personally has done.
It is an unfair situation, and what is worse is I know from now on there is nothing I can do about it. But for even the shortest time, I like to think that I in some way made things at least feel a little better, and hopefully set a spark for the future, and that is all that we can ever hope for in being in the lives of children.