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Accepting Reality

January 16, 2012

Photo by Laura Slotkoff

By Tiffany Montano, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Sarah T. Reed High School

Today I got a taste of what we’ve all been dreading.  Today I forced myself to get through the day strong in spite of the nagging twinge in my chest and stomach.  Today one of my students left.

We’ve joked about it every now and then, like, “I’m gonna have the worst empty nest syndrome when my service is done,” or “I’m going to spend days crying in bed.”  But the fact of the matter is we joke about it because we don’t want to face the reality of it just yet.

A student who I will call Janelle was one of those students that was so aggressive, so defensive, and so offensive that very few teachers could stand her (if any).  For some reason, I was drawn to her.  One Friday, she accused her teacher of failing her because she is black.  She made a huge scene and wound up put out of class.  The following Monday, she called me over to her desk in the middle of a lesson.  I motioned for her to wait but she wouldn’t stand for it.  Finally, I gave in and approached her wondering, “What is so important that you need me right this second?”  She asked me, “I didn’t offend you the other day, did I?”  I had trouble even remembering what she was referring to given how many offensive things she does in a given day.  Once I realized, I said, “Well no but I hope you don’t really feel that way.”  She confirmed that she does.  I paused.  “You don’t feel that way about me, do you?”  She said, “No, Miss Tiff, you actually help me.”

For some reason, she had taken to me too.  I never had, and never would again see Janelle show any concern for anyone’s feelings until that moment that she showed concern for mine.  Since then, if she was going to get any work done in that class, she wanted me there.  Yes, she played a big game of “Yeah, I know this, I don’t need you” or mocking me when she was with her friends in the hallways.  None of that mattered to me.  I knew that I was a source of comfort to her in the classroom and I think she knew that I liked her despite all of her attempts to achieve the opposite.  I also knew she had a good heart deep down.  Something has happened, or currently is happening to this girl that is so horrible that she has not only closed herself off to the world, she’s determined to let the whole world know it’s her enemy.

Today I found out she left Reed.  I don’t know where she transferred to or if she simply dropped out.  As I said, for some reason, I was drawn to her; and for some reason, she had taken to me too.  Now I will never know why.  I think we start to feel like we have all the time in the world with these kids.  It sure seems like it, being here 50 hours a week.  The truth is, though, we don’t.  We won’t have the privilege of seeing our students through the school year let alone see them graduate high school, college, lead a happy, healthy life.  If nothing else, I have to thank Janelle for making this clear to me before the harsh reality of losing these students from my life forever.  Now I can spend this semester with a new-found appreciation for what these kids teach me.  They won’t always have us and we won’t always have them.

And we must accept it.

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