I have been teaching long enough that my original students are now adults. Young adults, mind you, but adults nonetheless. Many are college graduates. One is married with a baby. One is a professional ballet dancer. I follow their progress on social media. Yes, some people actually "friend" their preschool and kindergarten teachers.
Occasionally I will search around on Facebook to see if I can find former students and see how they are doing. It's so amazing to see how they have grown, what they look like, what studies they have been pursuing. It's also pretty amazing to see how many of them keep in contact with friends they made at the small independent school where I taught them so many years ago.
This week as I lay around in the throes of a head cold, I made another such pilgrimage around Facebook to check on those former preschoolers and kindergarteners. One of them seemed to have disappeared. Well, Facebook isn't as popular as it used to be amongst the young, I thought. So I did a quick search on Google.
And then I saw the words I never thought to see: obituary. He had taken his own life. No, no, no. How could that be true? He was so young. I just wanted to scream out to the universe the wrongness of this. These are not the words that teachers ever want to see. Teaching is both a gift fully in the moment and an investment in the future. And now this beautiful boy's future was gone.
I feel that saying any more about this would be a violation of his privacy and his family's. There is so much I could say but I have an underlying feeling that there's an extremely fine line between acknowledging my personal grief and exploiting this incident for the good of a blog post. And I just can't do that.
As a teacher you must let go year after year. You tell yourself you should get used to it, but part of you never does. A tiny piece of every student stays with you. You can't help but feel a sense of responsibility for what happens as they go forward. You don't expect every child to be brilliantly successful, but you hope they will find joy, meaningful challenges, friends, love, fulfillment.
My heart is heavy. I feel there must be something I should do. But all my years as a teacher have not prepared me for this. Dear Child who was no longer a child--farewell. Your life meant something. The world cannot be the same without your beautiful spirit.