Tuesday, September 13, 2016

After all

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Hi :-) Mrs. M teacher! :-)" As I settled into my chair to check my morning emails, my eyes flicked from the subject line to the Korean characters in the "sent" column to the English version of the name beside them. Oh my gosh. It's K.

K, who used to be standing outside my classroom door every morning when I got to school, shoulders slumped in and long bangs combed purposefully across his eyes, hiding from the world. K, who scrawled a mixture of astute explanations (often accompanied by impressive diagrams to compensate for his limited English) and heavy-handed, repetitive "I hate..." statements. K, whose monsters would scare him so far into himself that he'd shut down completely, a little ball of lanky teenaged boy over by the window. K, who would then suddenly just let loose in a stream of hesitant-but-perceptive questions and reflections, pouring out his battles in halting beginner English for 20 or 30 minutes after class or before school the next day.

Identifying his triggers. Figuring out coping strategies that might work. The same anxious questions over and over again. Fighting his brain and feeling so frustrated and discouraged by what was "wrong" with him. Apologizing for disappointing me and sweetly thanking me for my help. Creating fascinating analogies, like comparing his energy to a phone battery that ran lower as the week went on, but could be "recharged" by help from his support system at school. Such insight in the midst of such overwhelming challenges.

K, who was suddenly just gone. Withdrawn from school one day last fall and sent back to Korea after an awful incident at home. Just like that. All the hours of listening and talking, of hooking him up with other supports, of keeping in close communication with those team members and wracking our brains to come up with innovative ideas to help him be successful... gone. We didn't even get to say goodbye.

Hours of work off of our plates, but it didn't feel good at all. Just when we were starting to get a really good support system in place, just when we were really feeling good about what we were doing to help him... he was gone. Ripped away from all those new supports. We didn't even get to try the check-in form that I'd worked so hard to make for him. My whole body seemed to be trying to tie itself in knots as I signed his withdrawal paperwork. What would ever happen to him, starting over in Korea?

And here he was, after all this time, right in my inbox this morning. Nothing in the body of the email, just that greeting in the subject line. But it was him. Alive, presumably not in jail or in a hospital, and emailing me to say hi with cute little emoji smiles. Tears spurted from my eyes as I restrained myself from replying IN ALL CAPS! "K, I'm so glad to hear from you!!!"

And later today, in his reply back, this sentence that tugged my heart right back to all those arduous-but-profound conversations: "Thank you for letting thoughts."

We didn't save him. We didn't get him close to graduation. We couldn't even help him avoid blowing up that weekend last fall. But he remembers my classroom as a safe place, and he remembers me as someone who cares. I must be doing a pretty good job, after all.


  1. Love this quote by him: "Thank you for letting thoughts."
    Beautiful. Know this thank you has made your day, week, month, year!

  2. I love the way you wrote post to build to what happened to K. I found myself wanting to jump to the bottom to find out the conclusion. I loved his thank you articulating his feelings so well and also you recognizing the true value of education-- creating safe and caring learning places, as well as a life of memories for all of our K's.


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