Sunday, October 12, 2014

Every once in a while, I get lucky.

Some days as an educator, I leave my home intending to change the world.  Some days, however, I just hope that I don't screw up enough that I become the lead character in some super-villain's back story.  Most days, I do my best and hope.

A few weeks ago, something happened that I have just now processed enough to be able to write about.   We all have those students who just fade into the background.  They aren't superstars, setting the world on fire.  They aren't the little toots that make us ask Santa for a new flask at Christmas. They are quiet.  They sit and observe.  They don't make waves.

Sunny September afternoon and I'm sitting at my desk, collecting my notes for class while my students come filing into the room.  The little blonde busy-body that I always call "The Narc" comes in, and I figure that someone was touching her pencil again.  She whispers, "There's a boy crying..."

That got my attention.  I left my papers and rushed into the classroom, thinking that someone was hurt.  And there was one of my students, sitting motionless at his table, just as he always does, but with tears running down his face.

Middle school kids don't do that.  When they cry, they weep.  They wail.  They sob uncontrollably.  I was looking for an Oscar-worthy performance, not the stoic little man with clenched teeth and haunted eyes.

"Go into my office.  Sit at my desk.  I'll be there in a few.  You are not in trouble," I whispered to him with my hand on his shoulder.  After I started the class in their activity, I followed him.

"What's wrong, baby?  Are you okay?"

"I got a lot of stuff going in my life right now."  With this monotone pronouncement, the chubby little man looked up at me and met my eyes and held them.  This is another thing middle school kids don't usually do.

"Would you like to go spend the hour in the counselor's office?"

He nodded, and gathered his belongs and left.

In spite of my uneasy feeling about this kid, I went back to my teaching, and the day moved forward.

I didn't check on him.

The next day, he was not in school.  Nor the next, nor the next, nor the next.

I didn't check on him.

After a week of absence, I called the attendance clerk and asked if she had heard from him.  He was in the hospital, and was not coming back for a while.

I hadn't checked on him.

As soon as I got a break in my schedule, I found the counselor.  He had made it to her office, and after listening to him for a while, she called his mother and helped the mother make the decision to get him the help he needed.  This 12 year old little boy was planning on putting a gun in his mouth and blowing his own head off.

I hadn't checked on him.

The first thing I thought about was, "Why hadn't I called the office to make sure he made it okay?  What if he had gone into a bathroom and hurt himself and I hadn't checked on him?"

I should have known better.  I, of all people, should have known to check on him.  I knew what might have happened.  I know because one year ago this month, my beautiful, brilliant, 16 year old daughter tried to take her own life.  I should have checked on him.

I am grateful that he is okay, and he is getting the help that he needs.  I am so glad that I sent him to the counselor, and that she reacted quickly and decisively.  I am so glad that I got lucky.   

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the THIRD leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 attempts by young people grades 7-12. (

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