Monday, August 17, 2009

What was old again is now new

Crayon smells drifting from a newly opened box, paste, not glue, smeared across pieces of construction paper, and the smell of old paper back books stacked once again on a rickety bookshelf bring back the welcome of returning to school. Stacked with that also comes the slam of lockers, screeching of new shoes, and voices dreading and loving being back in the halls of the hallowed. Even as a teacher, my nose has a hard time resisting the urge to bury itself within the box of newly opened crayons, or smear glue over the palm of my hand creating faux dead skin. Admit it, you all did that at least once in your life...if not...you;re missing something wonderful.

Walking back into the school year was as rough, and not as rough, as I expected. Getting into the swing of thing, flooding my brain with new curriculum (ugh), a new reading series, and one hundred fifty students to learn from, and of course, educate. With it, though, came a flood of memories that find my healed heart hurting once more, and I find myself dealing with a grief I thought I had managed. I find myself grieving once again...and I'm okay with that.

So once again I share with you this story.

We were both new. The size and volume flowing through the halls of the school threatened to bulldoze the both of us, and although we were eager to meet and greet the swarm of people buzzing around us, the sheer number of over one hundred fifth graders threatened to topple the poorly assembled self confidence that allowed us to put one foot in front of the other.

It was my first teaching assignment...well...my first one that had me teaching a full classroom for more than one week at a time. I was a student teacher. Christmas break was over, and the kids were definitely not ready to begin the second half of the school year. Standing in front of the class (did I mention that I was shy?) being introduced to the reluctant prisoners, I could smell the nervous sweat emerging from pores I didn't know existed. I had no idea fifth graders could be so intimidating. And right when the buzz saws starting going off in my head and I knew I"d be making imminent contact with the concrete floor, totally embarrassing myself, he walked in and saved me.

He was the new kid; just moved in from another school. His fist clutched tightly around a stack of pencils, a worn out binder, and a school bag slung across his shoulder were the weapons of choice. However, he clearly won the battle with a huge smile as he introduced himself, Travis...came from so and so school...mom just moved back to hometown...where do I sit?...and so on. Together we took on the school and awkwardly danced our way through the fifth grade year. But this really isn't about me at all, and then again, it is.

You see, teachers love their kids...we really do. Well, most of them anyway. When they walk through those doors of the hallowed insane, they become ours, and we love them and teach them and encourage them to reach for the stars and tackle the universe. But every once in awhile there comes a student that for some reason invokes more. And even though you only have them for a short while, the impact they make on your life lasts forever. For me, Travis was that student.

His fifth grade year wasn't all peaches and cream. Although he had that winning smile, it wasn't easy for Travis to make friends. As far as school went, Travis was an average kid that loved science and never did his homework. His bowl cut hair and ill fitting jeans kept him apart from most kids, but eventually he found a niche with a small group of boys, trading cards and telling stories. The stories that child would tell like the time his mom introduced him to this famous rock star, or the time he got to stay up all night playing some game, and how his parents let him do whatever he wants, and why he didn't do his homework because his step dad punished him last night and made him did holes in the backyard and then fill them back up again and he was doing that until 2:00 in the morning. Or the time he threw him out in the middle of a winter night wearing nothing but boxers because he was being too loud. I wanted to take him home. Keep him safe. Allow no harm to come to him again. He moved before the year came to an end.

He came back the next year, and then moved again. Two years later he returned once more. He was no longer the scruffy little guy in ill fitting jeans struggling to fit in. He fit in. Not with the best of crowds either, but he fit in. His eight grade year was a rough one, in and out of trouble, in and out of school. He found his first love, albeit a rather young first love, and finally, moved on to high school. Of course, it wasn't all caviar and champagne. Travis fell into a rough crowd, dropped out of school, and just kind of wandered. I never knew when I was going to pick up a paper and read about his incarceration or even worse, death. And even though I was no longer his teacher, I still wanted him to succeed. To get out of the rut he was in. To become, as corny and cliched as it sounds, the man he ought to be. I still loved that kid.

I saw Travis last spring, and you wouldn't believe the turn he had made. Yes, he was still the goofy kid I taught in fifth grade. They never do grow up you know. But he had reached his turning point. He was clean, drug-free, sober. He was employed, responsible, alive. He was in love, and with the same little girl he had met in eight grade, and she loved him in return. He had gone back and earned his G.E.D. His life was on the road to recovery and damn it all he was becoming the man he ought to be. I had never been so proud. We talked for a while, I think I told him how proud I was at least a half a million times before giving him the teacher student hug and walking away. I cried, not in front of him of course, did the Calvin and Hobbes happy dance, and went back to school and told everyone I could meet that my baby boy was becoming a man. You see, I wasn't the only one whose heart Travis had captured. The science teacher became his "mom" during sixth grade, and in the eight grade, the guidance counselor adopted him. We loved him. We were his alter ego moms. He made us proud.

Travis died in February. He was killed after loosing control of his car and crashing into a tree. I am going to miss that kid. The one I saw grow up into a man. And I will always remember him as the fifth grade boy who walked into my classroom and stole my heart.

88 comments:

  1. *Crying*

    A beautiful tribute.

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  2. Oh man how heart rending! You are truly amazing to tackle the task of educating our young. It's hard just working with my own children I can't imagine having the patience to work with other people's children.

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  3. God Bless Teachers Everyone! My heart goes out to you and the young man's family

    I particularly enjoyed how you described the smells of back to school.

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  4. I knew it was gonna be a sad one, but that last paragraph was like a punch in the gut. That is so sad.
    You must be one of the best teachers. I bet there are a lot of former students of yours that say you are their favorite. I can tell. And that is a wonderful thing.
    Glad to see a post from you! And I'm going to be putting some glue on my hand tomorrow. I loved doing that, gonna do it again. :)

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  5. Teachers love their students? Really?
    I hope my girls get teachers like you. Today.

    This is a lovely tribute - TO A KID, which makes it doubly tragic.

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  6. Alex, so very sad, such a loss. I always loved my teachers too, so I can imagine what a huge loss this was to you.
    You weave a beautiful story my dear.

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  7. Y'know - you warned us it was gonna be sad, but you're such a lovely writer that I kind of forgot... What a tragedy.

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  8. Thanks for sharing that touching story!

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  9. OMG! I'm so sorry to hear about Travis. But it's teachers like YOU who change people's lives, for the good!

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  10. You needed a tissue warning with that one, but thank you for sharing Travis with us.

    MsM

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  11. What a touching story! I'm glad Travis had you for his teacher.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  12. You should've warned us. that made me cry. at work. I'm so glad to know there are teachers like you out there.

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  13. That was a really beautiful albeit it, tragic, story. Hope you have many other kids whose lives you helped to turn around though this year and in years to come too. Just so hard when things like this happen to young people who've just begun to get their lives together and on track.
    Peace.

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  14. I agree with the other commenter who said that they last paragraph was a punch in the gut. I was fully expecting you to tell us that Travis ended up in prison or dead of a drug overdose or gang violence. But to read that he was one of the ones who made it, only to die a tragic death is almost too much to bear. I can only imagine the pain you must feel. I'm so sorry. On the other hand, I have to agree with others here that teacher's like you do make a difference for many kids. And some of those kids would be lost with you.

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  15. Wow, not what I was expecting either. Sad but feel good that you made a difference in his life. I'm sorry for your hurt.

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  16. Thank you, Alex, for being the teacher that you are. My heart aches with you to lose such special friend. I lost a young neighbor friend to violence, and it was as if I'd lost a member of my family. The kids most people think of as trouble-makers--for some reason they're the ones that steal my heart. Their stories are incredible. Kudos to your for seeing beyond the behavior to the goodness inside! And may Travis rest gently in the palm of God's hand.

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  17. that story still makes my eyes water...
    Hope this school year will be a good one for you! :)

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  18. There will be an award for you on my blog Saturday morning... (I know this because I can see into the future)

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  19. Wow. Not even sure what to say except you're a great writer. RIP Travis. :-(

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  20. Oh that was so sad! Sounds like you are a very special teacher.

    Over from SITS....

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  21. Oh, how awful! Life doesn't seem fair sometimes. I have had a few Travis' in my teaching career and I continue to worry about them daily (even though I am a SAHM now). I am so sorry his life had to end that way. Happy SITS day.

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  22. I teach 5th grade boys in Sunday School and love it! It's such a fun group! I view them and refer to them as my boys and enjoy keeping in tough with them as they grow older as well. I liked this story until the last paragraph that made me cry.

    Congrats on your SITS day! First time here but am now a follower!

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  23. That was so sad. I wanted Travis to have a long and best, rest of his life. Thanks for sharing his story with us.

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  24. This post is just as powerful as the first time I read it when it was originally posted. Definitely a memorable post.

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  25. Thanks for sharing Travis' story with us. You're a great writer and it sounds like you are a wonderful teacher as well!
    pk @ Room Remix

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  26. Sorry for your loss. I'm glad that you got to see how great of a person he is before he passed. Thank youfor sharing

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  27. That is the saddest thing ever. How awesome that he turned his life around!

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  28. I am so glad to hear your perspective on his life, and so glad to hear that he was able to rise above. I am sad to have read that he died, but knowing his story is so important to many people who know boys just like Travis. Thank you for sharing! Happy SITS day too!

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  29. That story should be made into a movie. I'd cry at the end!

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  30. It's a beautiful story, but such a sad ending...*tear*

    happy SITS day!

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  31. Oh this is so beautiful. What a great story and so well written. My mom still misses one of her second graders that died of leukemia while she was teaching him way back in 1982!

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  32. What a beautiful, touching story!

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  33. How sad... what a great story though.

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  34. Teachers are very special people. They care for, love and nurture our children day in and day out. Thank you.

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  35. Hi... what a story! And you told it beautifully. It would appear this young man touched many lives in his short life. Incredible. Keri

    www.samwich365.com
    www.spitnglue.com

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  36. You should write a book about that story! You were able to bring me to tears from this blog entry so I can't imagine what the book would do - who knows a big time producer might even pick it up and make a movie about the book :)

    I would start with the book though ;P

    Make it a great day!

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  37. Good for Travis!...
    It's a shame that some children must look outside the home for love and guidance.

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  38. this is so touching, my heart aches for you!

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  39. Oh my! I'm so sorry. But glad that at least for a moment he gave you hope that lives can change for the better.

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  40. What a beautiful story! So sad that he lost his life at such a young age!

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  41. Beautiful tribute in honor of Travis. Teachers like you are amazing. And just so you know, as a student (many, many years ago), we have many teachers, but some just stick more than others. I had 4 who forever changed my life and I made sure they knew it. One passed away in a car accident and the others are still teaching today. After 16 years out of high school, I still keep in touch with one of them.

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  42. Thanks for sharing such a moving, well-written story.

    And congratulations on your SITS day.

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  43. Beautifully written and told!

    So nice to meet you on your SITS day :)

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  44. When I was taking a class in Child Development in college, the instructor made a comment that stuck with me. A child needs at least one person in his life that thinks he is worth it. You were that person for Travis.

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  45. I'm trying to blink back the tears... that's so beautiful and so sad.

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  46. Oh...I have goosebumps. What a touching story. Our children are lucky to have teachers like you.

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  47. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm glad that so many people cared for him and the world is worse off for the loss of him.

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  48. Thank you so much for sharing his story! I'm sure his family is honored that he is remembered in such a way.

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  49. Wow. What a story. Thanks for sharing - and thanks for loving the one that seemed unlovable.

    Happy SITS day

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  50. Thank you for that story, and I'm so sorry about Travis. It is nice that his life did turn around, and that he was in a better place towards the end.
    It's great that you cared so much for him. I always loved my teachers and its nice to hear that they loved us as well.

    I also love the smell of crayons and newly sharpened pencils.

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  51. As a fellow teacher, I can relate to this! One of my worst days ever was when I had to attend the funeral of one of my students. It took a piece of my heart I tell you, but I wouldn't change it for the world. I look forward to going back once my kiddies are a bit older!

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  52. I hesitate always to post on sad stories because I never know what to say. Sorry, still don't know what to say.

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  53. What a sad but beautiful story. I know what it feels like to want kids to succeed long after you've finished working with them. It's so hard sometimes.

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  54. Sometimes it really does take a village. I'm glad to hear he had you in his village, even for just a short while. It's a bittersweet story and I'm sad how it ended, but I'm glad he got to see the good in life for a while, too.
    ***Ally
    Enjoy your SITS day!

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  55. Beautiful and so well written. Thanks for sharing, sitsta!

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  56. And this is why I could never be a teacher, and the reason I praise the people that can.

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  57. AS a teacher myself, I so get this. I have lost two students over the years...one to an accident another to meningitis. You never really get over it or forget.

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  58. What a beautiful story with such a sad ending!

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  59. Hi there,
    Stopped over from SITS, what a touching story, your a great story teller and sounds like a fabulous teacher also.
    Cheers,
    C

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  60. Oh my goodness, that is so sad. What a blessing that he found a real family.

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  61. So touching! You are a great writer :)

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  62. Happy SITS day:)

    That last paragraph really punched it to us. What a sad (but moving) story. I'm so glad he was able to turn around while he still had the chance.

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  63. Bittersweet journey; sad ending. Sounds like you were a bright spot in his life, and probably in a lot of others too. The world needs more teachers like you.

    Jenn @ rookno17.blogspot.com

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  64. Awww such a touching and sad story. So glad that there are teachers like you out there who really do care about people.

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  65. Beautiful story! I could never be a teacher, but I'm so glad there are those equipped to do it!

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  66. A sad ending, but I am glad the young man made a turn around before passing and that you were able to see that.

    Hope you had a wonderful SITS feature day!

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  67. A touching tribute to someone who clearly touched your heart. Thank you for sharing.

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  68. Wow, that is so incredibly sad. I'm so happy that you were able to be apart of each other's lives. I'm sure you had just as much of an impact on him that he did on you!

    *hugs*

    and happy SITS day!

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  69. I'm so sad that he had a terrible end. That really makes me sad. I was so happy when he turned his life around. I'm glad he captured the hearts of so many. He sounded wonderful.

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  70. I always wondered what teachers think of us kids. I certainly wonder what my old teachers are up to.

    A very sad and beautiful tribute to a former student.

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  71. Thank you so much for sharing that story. I think that no matter how long they are in our lives, the people that touch our hearts are truly a gift and a blessing. As is your remarkable blog--Happy SITS Day!

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  72. Thank you so much for sharing this. I was a teacher for 13 years and can completely empathise with your feelings regarding those students who just get into your heart and never leave. I am so glad that you got to see Travis and tell him how proud you were of him. I am so sorry to hear of his death. I'm visiting from SITS and am glad I found you. Sending smiles.

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  73. I am a teacher too. I can relate and I am sorry.
    Sandra

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  74. *hugs* My Mom is a 5th grade teacher and experienced something similar. She has touched so many lives. And yes, it's true, teachers care and love the kids.

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  75. Oh, my heart just broke.... It's so good to know that their are educators who care so much about the children they work with. Thank you for sharing, and congratulations on your SITS feature.

    Norine
    Don't Put Lizards In Your Ears

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  76. Oh, my God! Beautiful, beautiful. And that is just how my dad died a few years ago. Heartbreaking.

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  77. I'm sure that Travis greatly appreciates this story you have shared with all of us that never knew him. Because I believe he can hear our thoughts as we all silently read his story, just like he heard (or tuned in is probably more accurate) your thoughts about him as you wrote it. I too have been touched and pleasantly surprised by two of my grade school teachers. When I was 15, my boyfriend wrecked the car we were in and I broke my neck. I remember laying in the hospital, in a different city and state from the one they taught me in. My father read me two cards, one from my fourth and one from my sixth grade teacher. I was really shocked, especially because my sixth grade teacher was very strict and I had always thought she didn't like me that much. Somehow, they had found out about my accident. Those two cards meant more to me than all of the others. That is why I believe your words here have touched Travis as well. Thank you.

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  78. WHOA...wasnt expecting something so heavy this morning. My prayers are with him and all of those he touched.

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  79. It amazing how much people touch our lives without even realizing it. Great story. So sorry for the loss.

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  80. That is heart wrenching. At least you made a difference in his life while he was here!

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  81. That sent shivers through me- I'm so glad he found himself before his time was up.

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