Tuesday, January 22, 2013

No Words

at Two Writing Teachers!
I remember interviewing for teaching jobs and being asked what I would do if a student started crying in my class.  I always said that I'd go talk to him or her right away, but I remember wondering how often that really happens.  5 1/2 years later, it's happened far more often than I ever thought it would!  Every time, it gets easier and less awkward to go over, kneel down at eye level, and ask what's wrong.  After all, these are "my" students and I really care about them!

So today, like always, I knelt beside this particular crying student and then asked if she wanted to go talk in the hallway.  But today was different, and I wasn't prepared for what she would say.

First of all, I could barely get her to say anything.  The crying turned into sobbing once we got into the hallway, and I had to resort to yes/no questions. "Are you sick?" (shaking head no.) "Is someone being mean to you?" (no again.) "Is it something with this class?" (Still no, thank goodness!) "Is it one of your friends?" (nodding yes.)

"Oh, ok, what's going on?" I figure it's going to be girl drama, but...

She's an advanced ELL, but it comes spilling out in Spanish. "Mi mejor amigo...que está en México..." (More sobbing.)  "...lo mataron."  (My best (male) friend... back in Mexico... they killed him.")

My heart feels like it just plummeted through the floor and my hair stands on end.  "I'm so sorry..." I pull her in for a hug and she cries against my shoulder for a second.  When she pulls back, I just have to ask. "The drug gangs?"

Still crying, she nods. "Los narcos... They killed him on Saturday but I just found out this morning."

I don't know what to say or do. There are no words for this.  I ask about 3 times if she wants to go to the guidance office, but she says no. Class is almost over anyway. "If you need to leave class anytime, just go. And you know you can always come here if you need to," I assure her.  "Just tell your teachers you need to come to ESL and they can call me if they want." Nodding, she starts to dry her tears. I ask if there's anything I can do to help or make her feel better, but she says no. "Let me know if you think of anything you need... If you want to write about it or talk about it, just tell me, ok?"

My heart is broken. I can't believe she got through a whole day of school holding this inside. Like many of my students' stories, this is going to stay with me for a long, long time.


  1. Such a painful story. I'm so glad she had you to listen and care. I know that you will continue to be there for her.

  2. Wow, Jennifer, what a day you must have had. I, too, teach ESL students, and some days just are tough because of what happens back home. Wishing you strength for tomorrow!
    P.S. You must be a great teacher and mentor because your students trust you and share their lives with you!

  3. Wow...I just want to hug her. Thank goodness she has you to turn to. The poor thing. And my kids think their life is coming to an end because we didn't get a snow day....

  4. You are right - sometimes all we can give is our hug and the recognition we care. How sad!

  5. It is a credit to you Jennifer that you didn't back away, but immediately did something. She must have waited all day to be with you & tell you. I'm sorry for her; what terrible news to hear from afar. Those are the 'little' stories we never hear from Mexico. Thanks for sharing; hugs to you & your student.

  6. I'm glad you hugged her and I'm glad you wrote this little piece of her story. This is why we teach. It matters.

  7. Your student's story breaks my heart. I'm glad she can find shelter in your classroom. Poor thing.

  8. So glad this student has a caring teacher to talk to. Your presence and listening heart offer her some support, even when there are just no words.


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