While I was away in Vegas, I got sad news. A student in my high school was killed in a car accident on Saturday night. He wasn’t my student, but I certainly knew him from brief positive interactions at school and at the grocery store where he worked. Polite. Personable.
But this news broke my heart just the same.
See…I’ve lived this before.
Between the ages of 16 and 19, I had the to suddenly and prematurely say goodbye to a classmate, a teenage cousin, and my younger brother.
All grief sticks with you, but that experience of grief as a teen seems to imprint on you in ways that are hard to understand if you have not experienced it.
My heart hurts for the students in our building. It hurts for my colleagues and for our extended community.
I could not and cannot stop thinking about his family and friends.
Tomorrow is the first day of school for students since the loss of this young man. I need to think about the needs of my students – the ones who knew him well, the ones who didn’t but still struggle, and everyone in between. Some will want to do lessons as usual. Others will want to go talk to counselors. Some simply are not going to be ready to hear me no matter what stories I have to share with them about meeting authors or picking up new titles or anything else we might attempt to accomplish tomorrow.
It’s a balancing act.
We’ll probably write. I’ll write beside them like I try to do. I’ll leave it open for them to follow a prompt or not.
And we’ll take it all one step at a time.
I know that students look to their teachers to see how to act and react. I did whenever my classmate was killed the day of my junior prom. I remember my teacher barely holding it together as he attempted to take roll. That empty desk was more than he could take but he couldn’t – even by the end of the year – rearrange the seating chart. I remember my eyes filling up every day as I watched him go through this.
I have no seating chart to consider, but I do need to consider how I react in my room in front of my students. If they are like I was at their age, they want to know that they aren’t alone in how they feel. They want to know that this is normal. That this gets better. That this heartache is real no matter how well they knew him.
And that it’s okay for us to take it all one step at a time.