I think of you guys often. Each of you were in one of my classes, on one of my teams, or in one of my programs at some point during the near decade I worked in the high school you attended.
But I failed you.
You weren’t one of the kids for whom I fiercely advocated much beyond my scheduled time with you. I didn’t go to your home to tell to your mom or grandma I believed in you. I didn’t ask you to come to my room during my planning block so you could do your homework in peace. I didn’t ask you to eat lunch in my office to talk about college, the world, your potential, or to simply stay out of trouble.
And I didn’t collaborate with your other teachers to unearth your hidden talents and discover common challenges. I didn’t teach you how to navigate the system of schooling. I didn’t connect you to key community members to be there if I couldn’t. I didn’t tell the principal and your teachers to let me know each and every time you slipped. I didn’t introduce you to my wife down in the English department so you’d have another place to go. I didn’t accompany you to the police station if you got in trouble.
I simply didn’t do the things for you that I did for many of your classmates or team-members that faced the same challenges.
But I would have.
It wasn’t a deliberate choice—I just ran out of time. And, ultimately, I ran out of physical energy and emotional stamina. Knowing I had the ability to make a larger impact on your lives, which perhaps could’ve altered the path of self-destruction upon which you traveled, also made it hard to sleep at night. I finally had to take a short break from education.
I’ve since returned and am working in another district. I’m not in a classroom anymore, or even a building, but I think about getting back “in the trenches” often. I happened to spend some time last year as a substitute principal at one of our elementary schools. While there, I met and learned lots about a young fellow and the home enviroment from which he comes to us. He was troubled and angry.
He reminded me so much of you.
I made a few calls to get him some support both inside and outside of school, but, like my time with you, I felt largely powerless. When I walked out of that school one afternoon, I cried.
I cried because I know.
I know that regardless of how hard we try, or how much we care, or no matter how high we can get his test scores—this child’s future is vulnerable. Maybe it’s indeed impossible for us to help each child navigate the perils of poverty in the short time we have them in our care. But I believe, with all my heart, we must try. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”, as someone whom I deeply admire likes to quote.
I learned from that brief elementary school experience that I’m not quite ready to go back into the building, and, honestly, I’m not sure I ever will be. But I promise that I’ll never forget you and what you taught me. And I’ll always fight like hell to provide the best educational opportunities for every student.
You’ll never know the madness of educational policy propaganda, hostility, and political ideologues from both sides throwing garbage in the path toward that end. But it’s worth fighting through. Lives depend on it.
I just wish I could’ve been your Superman.