Last week a former student, graduate of 2008, died. It was an accident. It made me sad. And I thought about the other time I heard about a student’s death.
My first term teaching was miserable. I was at Columbus, 4 of 5 of my classes were difficult freshmen, and the 5th was repeaters. I was lousy, couldn’t manage the class, etc, etc. The second term was worse. I was up to 5 freshman classes, and my control was not, as far as I could tell, even a drop better. The school, the programmer, they did a perfect job of matching weak kids with a weak teacher. In 9 out of 10 cases the teacher would have left before the kids dropped out. This was the tenth case.
I swore I would remember how miserable that first year was, so I could help people get through it easier. But now, 13 years later, it’s kind of blurry. When I walk in a room, I can imagine it going out of control, but it doesn’t happen. I imagine kids sneaking in and out the back door, but the actual events are far away.
But I remember a few key scenes. And I remember lots of the kids. Staphon was in my middle of the day class in, I want to say 437 or 439. I think the next teacher used to scold me for leaving the room such a mess. I sort of understood, but there was nothing I could do; at that point I was fortunate the papers were being dropped on the floor and not thrown at me. I remember Luis from that class. And Nick who played football and who I had again as a senior. And Cleveland whose education had been interrupted in his home country (or never started?) Anthony, always hyper. And Elionor, I think, who sat near the back and helped me immensely by being my doorkeeper. Lorraine transferred into this class. And Yanay who did TKD. And 26 more.
Staphon passed. That was good. Weak kids + lousy new teacher very few passing kids. And then that summer he was playing basketball, and he collapsed, and he died. I tried then to remember him. I see his face, I barely hear his voice (he answered quietly, perhaps trying not to show his accent). I remembered one funny line… kids asked what I was doing that first spring break “I’m going to Turkey” said me, and Staphon jumped in with “I’m going to KFC.”
Staphon’s family created some sort of scholarship in his honor, and Columbus has been giving it out every year. I wonder what will happen when Bloomberg and his chancellor succeed in destroying Columbus? Will Staphon be forgotten? (not by me)
Last week a former student died. An accident. She was just 20. I knew her all 4 years at my small school. I think she may have been in one of my electives senior year. But I am pretty certain that she was a service aide for me, once a week, as a senior. I remember her voice. How sweet she could be. And also her flashes (occasional) of temper. And who her friends were. And how she looked. And I knew a little about her first year, far away at college, and that she was back in New York this year. I can actually only recall one conversation, after she graduated, as she prepared to go west and we said goodbye.
She was my student more recently than Staphon. So the memory is fresher. She was in a small school. He was in a large school. But the intimacy of a small school does not matter here. I am saddened, twice. I try to remember. I wonder who else remembers, or will remember. I am worried about his scholarship. And for her, I hope we plant something special.