The Suicide of a High School Senior

Yesterday, I posted a blog entry about the numerous issues that students face and the role that we as teachers can play in combatting them.  (Click here to read it.) Upon arriving at work this morning, I received word that one of my favorite students from my first year of teaching took his own life yesterday.

My hometown is shocked and truly shaken by this event.  It certainly isn’t the first student death I have experienced in my teaching career, and sadly will likely not be the last.  I’m struggling with the fact that he felt so hopeless, that he thought that his life was no longer worth living.  He was only a senior in high school.  I remember him as very lively, fun, and well-liked by his peers.  I have wonderful memories of him as a vibrant 6th grader jumping around my classroom with a friend performing skits on ancient civilizations.  He loved to be goofy and to make people laugh.  I am completely dumbfounded.

This tragedy has forced me to, once again, reflect on my role as a teacher.  We, as teachers, are in such a unique position to help build student’s self-confidence and make them want to be the best version of themselves.  As teachers, our words and attitude drastically impact those who walk into our classrooms each morning.

This tragedy has been a reminder to me of why I teach.  Since politics and drama seem to continually plague the education world, it is very easy to lose sight of why I became a teacher in the first place.  I became a teacher to have a positive impact on the lives of middle school students and to make them excited to learn.  It has also made me realize how distracted I am sometimes during the school day.  Too often, my mind is consumed with my To Do List or distracted by own stress.

As teachers, when we are in our classrooms each day, we should push aside all of that “stuff,” and be the best teachers that we can possibly be.  We should give the time that we have with our students 200% of our focus and efforts.  Although we cannot control all of the choices that our students make, we can control how we make them feel in our classrooms.  We have the power to both inspire a student and to crush them.  The choice is ours.  We should choose wisely.  Perhaps, if we do, we could help prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

So as we look across our classrooms today and see that one kid who drives us crazy, let’s make the choice to be kind.  When we are distracted by our own personal lives, let’s turn our focus back to our students, at least during the school day.  And let us always remember that this isn’t just a job for us, it isn’t about being recognized, it isn’t about the money – we do it to make a difference in the lives of young people.

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

-Haim G. Ginott from his book Teacher and Child:A Book for Parents and Teachers

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