A little over a week ago, my principal sent an email in the evening. It said something about an incident involving a student at our school, and that we all needed to meet first thing in the morning before classes. Unfortunately my brain went right to the worst thing possible…and it turned out to be the case.
Having taught for over 16 years, I have connected with a lot of young people. There are always some that you connect with more than others though. I must admit that although there were a few kids I seemed to “get” in my early teaching days, I really didn’t start feeling like these were “my kids” until much later into my career.
Last year I returned to teaching after 4.5 years off to be home with my youngest child. I was blessed to be able to take that much time off and still have a job waiting for me. I taught part time, and one of my classes was a grade 10 academic English class. At first I wasn’t sure how things would go, and it was kind of strange going back to it after being away so long. However, relatively quickly I knew this class was special. It was the nicest group of teens I had encountered. They were kind, studious, fun, always up for discussions about world events, and I felt like they were my own children. I loved them that much. I looked forward to seeing them every day after lunch.
One student in the class was a boy named George. George sat in the front, in the centre of the room (he ended up there because of his last name). He always had a smile on his face. He was always polite and friendly. He always raised his hand if I asked a question and no one else tried to answer. He was, to put it bluntly, the perfect student.
He always entered with a smile and a greeting. He and I would often chat about the day or world events when students were doing independent work. Since he was front and centre and my desk was up there, I naturally gravitated to him during those times. (Maybe he thought, Lady, leave me alone because I am trying to get work done, but he never looked like he was thinking it!) Everyone loved him. A few girls and I would rib him about his hair (which was slicked back and styled perfectly), and he would respond shyly with that smile that would light up the room. George knew it was in good fun, but it WAS perfect. I remember a day he must’ve had gym and didn’t slick it back, and we noted how great it looked that way too. The kid was blessed with amazing hair, and we were jealous.
Though I was sad to not be teaching them anymore once the course was over, I was happy to see those students in the hallways, in other classrooms, and around town. I would always exchange smiles and greetings with them, and that included George. Last semester a new teacher started at the school. She had many students from my much-loved class last year, including George. She and I were running a group, and so I would often pop in to her classroom for a quick chat. There was George, smiling and waving, and I would say, “George is my favourite. I love you all, but…” It was kind of a joke, but also not. The students knew I loved them all, but George was just that kid. The sweetest boy with the perfect hair, the beautiful smile, and a “hello” and wave every time we saw each other.
A few weeks ago I was having a bad day. These headaches were getting me down and I was really frustrated. George walked into my classroom, with another student whom I didn’t teach but know from my group, and said something like, “Hey, you’re the best.” I found out that the teacher he had last semester had sent him in to say that to cheer me up, knowing that George had that power. Apparently his response to her was, “You don’t have to ask me to do that!” and he headed straight to my classroom. Of course it brightened my day immediately.
So when the staff gathered on a Thursday morning to hear what that incident involving a student was, I was shocked, confused, and devastated that it was about George. That sweet boy with the power to make a day better and brighter was gone. That boy whom everyone loved was gone.
I thought about how, just the week before, he had come into my classroom to lift my spirits. I thought about how I had seen him the week before that as I was driving away from school late in the day and he was heading in “for English homework” he said. I thought about how he got up in front of the whole school the week before that, with about an hour’s notice, and took part in a lip-sync/dance-off battle that was the greatest thing we’d seen. That new teacher, another, and I laughed and cheered for George. He was so full of life. How had this devastating thing happened?
A little over a week later it is still difficult to process. I never saw anything but that sweet smile on his face. Listening to his family and friends speak at the funeral made it even more puzzling. George had so many people who loved him and would have supported him if he had reached out. But he didn’t. And now those of us who were blessed to know that extraordinary boy will never get the chance to see him again.
I cry every day about George. I wish he had come to me to say he was suffering. I wish I had known he was so I could have tried to help him. I would have done everything in my power to help. I can just hope that George, that sweet soul who was only 16 years old, is resting peacefully now.
*If you are or anyone you know is in need of someone to talk to, please reach out. The Kids Help Phone line is 1-800-668-6868. Know that you are loved and supported.*