Eyre Affairs

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Location: New York, United States

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"He was in such danger..." ~ Jane Eyre

*I know many of you watch Gray's Anatomy and think the theme song by the Fray, How to Save a Life, is about being in the medical field. It isn't. The song was written by a band member in the Fray about his experience mentoring a teenager addicted to cocaine. I am sure it makes more sense to you now.*

Step one you say we need to talk.

Ryan came to me at the beginning of ninth period today explaining why he was absent from my class this morning.

"Another court date, " he said quietly.

In the past year I have had Ryan as a student, for he is repeating American Literature this year with me, I have never known him to be quiet. In the past he has usually been loud, obnoxious, and impulsive with his words. He is diagnosed with ADHD, but he has complicated matters in the past because of the crack I know he used. He smoked so much this past summer that he robbed a convenience store one night when high. No weapons; he just faked having a gun in his pocket. He has been in many physical fights in the building; at one point the Dean's Office wouldn't even handle him anymore - he went straight to the principal when it came to handling his behavioral issues.

There has never been a time I have been scared to be around Ryan; I know he would never hurt me. He has puppy dog eyes and a shit eating grin that is contagious. He is so damn smart. The ADHD impedes him from performing at his best; this child has a high IQ. It is the nature of his illness - he cannot help himself. Period. It is not his parents; I have had his siblings and I know his parents well. The ADHD is a demon. A demon. We have fought often. He has walked out of my room at times. At other times I send him out.

He walks you say sit down its just a talk.

I tell him that I didnt realize that he was back in court today, and then I apologized for kicking him out. I know he was not cooperating out of nervousness. Most days have been good; yesterday felt like a regression back to the battle-filled mornings of last year between us.

He smiles politely back at you.

"It's ok, it's ok. Here is my note from this morning." He looks exhausted as he asks for the homework.

You smile politely right on through.

I tell him to sit down and he does. I say, "Babe, what happened this morning?" I call him babe. All my students are my babies. Mind you, I had to throw him out of class yesterday.

Ryan tells me that he is not going to jail, but that he is being considered for probation. Lately Ryan has been making a turn around, so I know that this judge is doing the right thing by reviewing his latest performance record both with behavior and academics. I sigh a sigh of relief and tell him that I am proud of the turnaround that he has done this year.

Some sort of window to your right
as he goes left and you stay right
between the lines of fear and blame
and you begin to wonder why you came

Last spring I sat in a meeting with his father, who cried during a good portion of the meeting. This was two months before he was arrested.

Where did I go wrong I lost a friend
somewhere along in the bitterness
and I would have stayed up with you all night
if I'd known how to save a life

"Ry, is this over? Please tell me this turnaround is for good, not just because of the charges." I am exhausted, too.

Let him know that you know best
cause after all you do know best
try to slip past his defense
without granting innocence
lay down a list of what is wrong
the things you told him all along
and pray to God he hears you


He assures me with his puppy dog eyes that he has learned his lesson. I believe him. I do. I tell him he will pass English this quarter and that I can send a letter to the judge if he needs me to. I tell him to go home and rest and that I will see him in the morning. I also tell him that the next piece of literature we study will be read aloud in class, so he will understand it more easily. Death of a Salesman. He thanks me again, and I pat him on the back.

Ryan will be saved; I know that. But for each one that is saved, two more are not. I called a parent of another student this morning telling her about his poor academic performance. There were bigger fish to fry; she told me that she had his sister follow him home. Just that afternoon he left school early to go do meth with three friends at the house. He wants to drop out of school; the drugs have so overtaken his mind that he is disaffected. Last year a student I had, Carl, dropped out in March after he was jumped for what he was carrying. He was, by far, the angriest student I have ever met. He is a drug dealer now, walking the streets day and night. Two years ago I had a sophomore leave two months into school to enter rehab after he was found unconscious during a rave under the Brooklyn Bridge.

This is not the inner city. The majority of the students in my building are white. Drugs are a silent epidemic in all high schools, whether it is inner city or suburbia. The administrators are in denial of the problem, as are the parents. Teachers, including myself, are not. Drugs impact me in horrific ways daily. I get really tired of it. Really tired.

And you begin to wonder why you came...

18 Comments:

Blogger Ryane said...

Amy, when I was in high-school, some kid--whacked out of his mind on drugs--stabbed another kid on the bus w/a screwdriver he snatched out of the Creative Arts lab. It was horrific. They were both sophmores and both of their lives are over: the victim died and the assailant is in jail.

Yes, I am sure teachers do see quite a bit and I don't know how you do it...esp. when you know the potential and still...watch them spiral out of control. I can barely stand it in a good movie...

=-(

Good post..

8:40 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

Actually, I never thought that song had anything to do with 'Grey's Anatomy.' They just use great songs. ;)

You have a lot more courage than I do, and from what you write I'd say my original estimation of you as The English Teacher Extraordinnaire was dead-on. I marvel at people who make personal connections and really affect lives. Kudos for that. Your students are lucky.

10:59 PM  
Blogger ThursdayNext said...

Ryane ~ Indeed, the irony is that I am always teaching about the downfall of the tragic hero. Plenty of students come to school high - it certainly is scary. Your description of what happened to those sophomores is horrific. With all of the other wars happening, it seems to me that the war on drugs has been forgotten...

Marty ~ You make me teary! You are too kind to me. I think that there are so many different facets of courage and we all excel in various facets. Therefore, I would never say that you are not as courageous!

5:40 AM  
Blogger work in progress said...

Amy, dear, I understand your lament. During my internship I sit in groups with adolescents who are involved in drugs, promiscuity, and have been horribly victimized by various people in their lives. Some have mental illness, some are just trying to deal with the deck that life has delt them.

I'll tell you the same thing everyone tells me when I have a rough day-you're making a difference. By listening, by being there, by the simple act of caring, you're making a difference. You can't save them all, nobody can, but you are doing a lot just by giving a crap, by seeing the person behind the problem, by looking for the good in each kid, by using your position to eke out the good through the bad.

Try not to feel powerless, you have a great power, and you wield it wisely.

xoxo

7:04 AM  
Blogger Connie said...

Gulp. Thank you for being a teacher and trying to make a difference.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Bird said...

hats off to you amy!

your post touches me deeply - you could be describing my son. ADHD and drugs are a very poor mixture.

i look at my son, and students i have who remind me of him, and i know it is not their fault they have adhd or whatever else they might have going on in their lives out of their control - no it is not their fault.

but i do tell them, as i tell my son, that it is their responsibility.

and that's the key. they are no more at fault for adhd, bi-polar (my son has that as well), etc. than they are for their blue eyes, or their bone structure, or the color of their skin. but they are responsible.

they are responsible to work with parents, teachers, counselors, psychs, cops, WHO EVER is willing to work with them. they are responsible for problem-solving, and coming up with ways to alleviate their difficulties. they are responsible for recognizing that illegal drugs and self-medication do not in any way help them and that if they choose not to engage fully in resolving their issues, then they are, indeed, at fault for all that befalls them.

which of course, doesn't mean they don't need or deserve an outstretched hand when they fall down.

but i have my limits. there is a point at which i will stop and walk away. because sometimes, the best outstretched hand is your back. the trick is in determining when it's time to offer the hand and when it's time to turn your back (always keeping the eyes in the back of your head trained on that student, that young person - waiting, wiating for the moment when he or she does indeed begin to rise of his/her own accord - and then you turn around, quickly, and offer that hand.)

thank you so much for this post. and the opportunity to respond.

11:38 AM  
Blogger ThursdayNext said...

WIP ~ I remember your post about your experience from a few months back. Know that we have mutual respect when it comes to these students; I am so grateful that you are there for them.

Connie ~ Sigh. I try! Another incident happened today with my student, Pat. We had a long talk after class and he told me that the drug addiction has spiraled out of control; we have a meeting tomorrow with the school psychologist, his mom, and a social worker.

Birdie ~ I empathize with you and your son. I know you are a wonderful parent based on the thoughts you shared on this post. Yes, it is their responsibility. Its harder learning that when there is adversity working against them, such as ADHD. It makes the lesson harder. But, like you said, it is STILL a lesson that CAN be learned. If we show that we care, I do believe that it makes the process a bit easier. Ryan had to learn the hard way, but now he has a chance, and it makes me glad that at the time he got into trouble every one had their backs turned. Now he knows...now he knows. He got me teary this morning as he analyzed Ethan Frome's depression. I do love this kid as if he were my own.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teaching....what can I say.
I teach at the elementary level at 3 rural schools. I teach plenty of adhd students. They certainly can wreck havoc within a classroom, esp. in the afternoon. Most of my students probably and hopefully don't do drugs....but that doesn't mean their parents don't. I hate to think of the home life that some of my students go home to...
I'm glad this student of yours is turning his life around for the better. Good teachers who truly care really do make a difference..
hugs to you, sweat pea (this is what
I call all my students..:) ).

11:20 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

ryan is very lucky.

let us know how things go the rest of the school year. i now feel invested myself - how odd, eh? i want to know if ryan makes it.

12:28 AM  
Blogger question girl said...

oh amy.... i so feel your pain... (however i also envy your abilty to mesh a phenomonal song w/ your real life)

i have a great kid who had diabities, had a drug and alcohol addiction, (mom died and he turned to drugs because dad has no clue how to parent since she did it all)... he is acting out daily and it breaks my heart

we bonded last year over our love of hard rock - he even tries to talk me into going to concerts that he hears about ALL the time

but i see him throwing his live away

and he is only one of my 75 kids this year.....

12:29 AM  
Blogger David said...

I've always been attracted to great books because I feel that the best literature is not only a road map to another place, it is a road map to your inner self. It's about making connections and it is incredibly fitting that not only are you doing that in an academic sense, you're making personal connections as well. It's not about an I.Q., it's not about a specific skill set, it's about giving a shit. And you clearly do when others are too focused in their own personal spheres to realize what Tom Joad knew all along: we're all connected.
You're not just a great teacher, you're a great human being. Unfortunately, there's not a cool mug for that. ;)

2:19 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Amy, yourbiggest problem is that you care.

I know it is draining - what is hard is when sometimes you have to decide how much of myself can I put into this or that (student). Then there are all of those students who sometimes quietly just kind of slip away and resign themselves to mediocrity. Those are the ones we may never catch.

It is nice to see you are still putting yourself in it.

4:29 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

Wow. I have so many thoughts and don't know where to start.
He needs you, Amy. You could quite possibly be the first and only person in Ryan's life to ever tell him he's worthwhile. Teenagers long for love and acceptance, despite their tough exteriors, and you giving it to Ryan is changing his life forever. You're absolutely priceless. Thank you so much for pouring into this young man who otherwise would probably be very lost.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Clearlykels said...

Amy-- you are such an incredible writer. I really loved this post. It is so hard to be a teacher. I really admire you and all of my friends who are teachers. he is lucky to have you.

3:12 PM  
Blogger shpprgrl said...

You are right, the drugs are everywhere. It's so sad. I could go on forever...The little defenseless ones that see it every day at home. They don't have decent shoes, a jacket or crayons but their parents have drugs.
Very frustrating.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy- may you be blessed!

From the time my kids were old enough to understand the concept of medicine- I began talking about the danger of drugs- street and OTC meds.

Sometimes we role play- and I pick a friend that we would never suspect as being a user (the pastors son, or a dear best friend) and we act out how we would respond to that person if he/she wanted to share a joint- or a pill- or alcohol (and sex too).

We've practiced how to say NO...

I've encouraged their grandparents to talk to them too- as well as my sisters. My kids know that if I find out they've experimented with drugs- everyone in the family will know about it. (which is ALOT of poeple- and all of them will have something to say :)

Even so- with all the ways I've tried to prepare them, the idea of my kids on drugs scares the life out of me. I won't know for another 10 years or so if it worked...but honestly- it's the way my parents addressed it, and it worked for me.

10:20 AM  
Blogger afromabq said...

WOW Amy, again you've left me speechless. I have so much admiration for you and what you do. I love how you incorporated the song into your post - that was awesome.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Lady Lux said...

so do I....I get tired...really tired...like tired I don't wanna' report on Monday...

7:23 AM  

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