Last Sunday one of my ESL students decided to take his own life. The school called me on Monday to let me know what had happened, and honestly, I had know idea what to think or feel in that moment. This student had shared some of his family issues with me, but he never made it out to be that bad. He was brilliant, kind and caring. Not once was he disrespectful towards me or any other students, and even after arriving late because he had to walk 2 miles in the snow he always had a smile on his face. He was too young; it shouldn’t have come to this. It scares me to think that I never saw the signs–if there were even signs. I know I can’t change what happened, but I wish I would have know something was wrong so I could have helped him find the help he needed.
Luckily, we had Monday off for presidents day and Tuesday off for curriculum say was able to collect myself before going back to school. Honestly, I didn’t want to go back into that classroom, I didn’t want to see his empty chair. But a very wise friend told me that I have to put on a strong face because even though his seats is empty now, there are 20 filled seats that need me. On Wednesday we had to tell the other students. The thing that makes it even harder is that he was in the ESL 1 class. This class is like a family; they are together for all 9 periods and have been together since the beginning. We are fortunate enough to have translators in the school, so we were able to tell the Hispanic, Karen, and Karenni students in their native language. They were shocked. Students who I thought would be the strong ones were crying and others silently stared off into the distance. I even had one student laugh. He is very immature for his age and I assumed it was due to his inability to process such strong emotions. I think they were talking about writing letters to the family letting them know how much they loved having him in their class and offered words of comfort. I think it was great that we set aside the curriculum and rules, and let our students grieve in their native language.
That same day, I took the opportunity to reminded my other students that I will ALWAYS be there for them no matter what. If they need to talk, a shoulder to cry on, a good laugh. or even just a hug, I will always be more than willing to help them. I understand that some students might not feel comfortable coming to me, so I made sure to give them names of people they could go to. I can’t lose another student; I care about them too much.
Today was his funeral. I thought I was prepared, but once I got there and saw a picture of him smiling I fell apart. A few of my other students were there and when they saw me crying they just gave my a huge hug, a handful of kleenex and reminded me that everything was going to be OK. I’m supposed to be the strong one, and there my students were making sure I was comforted. I was blessed when I was put at South. These kids have changed my life and push me to be a better and stronger person everyday.