Monday, March 9, 2009

The Hardest Part of a Teacher's Job

Mr. Fairway leaned across the table over dinner the other night.

"You're such a good teacher." The man hands out compliments about as often as snow falls in Malibu (and that was exactly 3 times this winter); his remark made an impression.

But he wasn't referring to tests, or essays, or helping out a Cherub who was short on lunch money...all things I've done more than once. He was talking about the hardest part of a teacher's job. Going to funerals.

I attended another memorial service on Saturday, for the father of my Yearbook Editor. Felled in the prime of life. Extinguished by heart attack at the age of 50.

The process never gets any easier. In fact, I'd rather grade a stack of horrid timed writings than have to face a sanctuary full of mourners one more time. But it's something I do; not because I have to, but, really, because I need to. For my peace of mind. For the kids.

The service was short, upbeat; a celebration of this Dad's life. His extended family was there. My Yearbook Cherub greeted congregants outside, smiling, laughing, carrying on several conversations at once. She was so strong. I felt like the student; she was the teacher that day.

The funerals, wakes, viewings & memorial services, over 15 years of teaching, become a part of the process. More vivid than the imagery we study in Advanced Placement Language; far more insightful & full of meaning than the standardized tests we administered last week.

The deaths of the students are the most difficult. The shining star gunned down a week after her 20th birthday in the Virginia Tech Massacre. The fun-loving ice hockey captain who killed himself on his siblings' swing set. The sweet, sweet grad who perished last August, whose death left even me without adequate words for several days.

Saturday, the family chose to celebrate a life, instead of mourn a death. The Dad who sang "Surfer Girl," much to the chagrin of his children. The Husband who held on to his Monte Carlo with the blue plush interior much longer than fashionably imaginable. The Friend who celebrated birthdays, commemorated milestones, and even mourned a few deaths himself over the years.

As I told Mr. Fairway after the service, my Cherubs make this difficult rite of passage bearable. But their very presence at a function that speaks of a life well-lived instead of a life soon-to-be-lived also leave the strings of my heart tied up in tiny little knots.

They shouldn't have to go through this. But at the same time, they must. We want to protect them, but at the same time we can't. Death is a part of growing up. We don't teach it, but somehow I think we should.

Editor's Note: Yet another March entry in The Random Complexity Writing Challenge. 462 words.


Susie said...

What a thoughtful post! It is in doing the difficult things that we find meaning in what we are doing at all.

MRMacrum said...

If I find it difficult to comment about a blog post, it has either made me angry, or like yours stirred something inside I would just as soon forget. Your thoughtful words were great. But on the heels of my own loss of a life long friend, a teacher and contemporary, all I could do while reading this was remember the strength of my friends children as they hugged me when I fell apart. Grief is different for everyone. It would seem that I need a little longer to deal with mine. Thank you. This helped immensely.

Tara R. said...

I am so sorry for your student and her family. I liked what you said about celebrating a life and not mourning a death.

Marrdy said...

Oh my gosh. You are a great teacher. What a difficult thing to do but it just proves how much devotion you have for your students.

dkzody said...

I have only gone to one funeral of a parent, but two of students. Those are really hard. But, I've also gotten to enjoy a few weddings too.

siobhan said...

What a lovely post. I teach college now, and rarely know my students well or long enough to enter their lives in the way you describe. I did attend several student/colleague family funerals when I taught high school, and although they were difficult, I was grateful to be able to DO something, however small, to let the victims know that they were not alone.

Karen, author of "My Funny Dad, Harry" said...

I didn't guess attending funerals was the hardest part of a teacher's job, but I guess I just never considered that to be part of the job before. It's wonderful that you actually do that!

Congrats on your SITS day!


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