Which Path to Take?

I had a thought-provoking day earlier this week involving two of my former students.  They are both eighteen-years-old and on very different paths in life.  One’s future is full of promise and hope; the other has gone down a troubled road.  I’m left thinking about each with the simple question—why?

I was one of those teachers who had a hard time letting things go at the end of the day.  When I saw obstacles in my students’ lives, I worried about them.  That doesn’t make me special or unique.  There are plenty of other teachers like me who have a hard time turning it off when they get home.  It’s healthier in the long run when you can remind yourself that you can’t fix everything, but our students are like our children. 

I spent many a restless night, lying in bed, worrying about children who had so many hurdles to overcome. Some of these problems were easier to tackle than others.  If a child was struggling academically, I knew that I could get him/her extra tutoring.  If there weren’t help available in my school, I would do it myself, offering the family the help. 

If a child was struggling socially, I tried every way possible to provide guidance.  Sometimes I offered advice, but mostly I listened. 

I don’t like the term “bad kid” because it implies that a child is choosing to act by antisocial means.  The reality is that most of these “troubled kids” are expressing their anger at school because they have things going on in their lives that would make anyone angry.

The hardest cases for me were those children surrounded by dysfunction.  It could be a parent in prison, a loved one suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, not having a stable place to call home or something as tragic as not having a loving parent or guardian. 

Those are the kids I lost sleep over because I realized their lives were unfair.  It’s heartbreaking when you know that a kid would become successful and live a happy and full life if they had a level playing field.

Teaching brings moments of great joy and sadness.  Sophia, a girl I taught in third-grade nine years ago, reached out to me and invited me to her high school basketball game.  One of the remarkable things is that I had probably only seen her twice in the subsequent nine years since she had been in my class.

All of the girls on the team recognized a former teacher who had helped them in their educational journey.  I was incredibly touched, but mostly I felt proud of her.  She has gone from a shy kid to one destined for great things.  She’s intelligent, charming, confident, and poised.  I learned she wants to go away to college to study to become a dentist.  I’m sure you can feel my pride, reading my words.

Sophia’s path was predictable.  She was born into a beautiful family that provided her love and stability.  She had to put the work in and deserves full credit for that, but she also had excellent support.  I can’t help but think of how lucky I’ve been in my life.

Ironically, the same day that this wonderful moment happened, my heart was also dealt a blow.  I opened the paper and read about a former student arrested for drug trafficking.  For obvious reasons, I’m not going to go into a lot of details about that, but my heart sank.

That student was not a “bad kid,” either; he was quite likable, both among his peers and teachers.  Like Sophia, I had only seen him a couple of times in the past decade.  The picture in the newspaper was not one of a hardened criminal, but one of a young man who looked like he wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Now I am left wondering—why???  Of course, there is no easy answer.  I can’t claim to know what could have led him down this path.  I remember his grandma was raising him.  She was doing her best.  I have no way of knowing if she passed, or he just got himself mixed up with the wrong crowd.  There is no way I would have predicted this outcome.

I believe in second chances.  This young man’s life is not over, and I hope whatever the resolution is to his current situation, he turns his life around.  Sometimes all it takes is having someone believe in you.

The lesson learned for me is there are no guarantees in life.  Young kids are at the mercy of their environments.  As children get older, they can choose the type of people to associate with. Friends are essential to our quality of life.  When we surround ourselves with good role models and others who share our values, we are giving ourselves the best chance.  I can only wish that my student gets back on the right path. 

38 thoughts on “Which Path to Take?

  1. Teaching is a hard road. I don’t always tell them, but my teachers were like my aunts and uncles.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. petespringerauthor January 19, 2020 — 3:17 pm

      Most of the teachers I worked with were 100% dedicated to their craft. It is rather remarkable, understanding that your students come together with all types of backgrounds and experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There is no answer to that, Pete. Find solace in knowing that even the one struggling with drug charges–there may be a reason for him to learn that lesson. He could have a bright future, just not the one originally predicted.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. petespringerauthor January 19, 2020 — 3:19 pm

      Everything you say is right, Jacqui. I am the eternal optimist, and I would never give up on this young man.

      Like

  3. It is hard to see them struggle. But teachers who care do make a difference, I believe.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 19, 2020 — 3:28 pm

      We get so invested in their futures. My students were more than just kids passing through my classroom. Thank you for your comments, Cynthia.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve seen the same kind of things with children who I taught years ago and are now in their late teens/early 20’s. We do the best we can and though we make a difference we cannot fix everything.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. petespringerauthor January 19, 2020 — 5:11 pm

        Yes, I know that to be true. I think it is more heartbreaking when we don’t see it coming.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My son-in-law teaches in a pupil referral unit – teenagers not in main stream schooling. A very low pupil teacher ratio, aiming to get them to pass exams, or at least come to school. On open evening no parents or guardians ever turn up.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. petespringerauthor January 19, 2020 — 3:39 pm

    One of the eye-openers for me as a teacher used to happen when we’d invite the parents and their children back to school for Science Night or Math Night. These were explorations designed to engage the parents and their children. The attendance at these was pitiful, and yet the school was packed if we held a school carnival or if we had a Halloween Parade. That is a sad commentary on priorities.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can see where your emotions see-sawed this week, Pete. It must be hard not to reach out to students like that young man, but you can’t solve all their problems- sooner or later they have a decision to make. {{hugs}}

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 19, 2020 — 5:13 pm

      Thanks, Jacquie. I’m not going to let one incident detract from all of the good things that have happened.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. wonderful post, Pete, and what an honor to be asked by Sophia to attend her basketball game. It’s a tribute to the care you showed to her and all you other students over the years as a teacher. And I certainly hope that your other student is able to get back on a better path in life. Warren Buffett once used a phrase that I have really latched onto, “the ovarian lottery”. It’s another way of saying “the luck of birth”. So much of our future is determined by when, where, and to whom we were born. And that is something none of us has control over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 19, 2020 — 7:02 pm

      Thanks for the comments, Jim. Sophia is one of the many amazing and wonderful students who I had the pleasure of teaching. I hadn’t heard the Warren Buffett phrase before, but there is a lot of truth to that. One of the most interesting case studies would be to learn why some children overcome their circumstances. It is such a test of their resiliency. I have to believe in most cases, there was someone who encouraged them not to give up.

      Like

  8. Your care and love for those you teach shine through, Pete and the joy in your photos with Sophia is there from both of you. Hopefully, the young lad in trouble will have a moment that helps him to make different decisions. Hugs for you all. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 20, 2020 — 8:43 am

      In the teaching world, “my students” are “my kids.” After thirty-one years, there are a lot of them roaming around in the world. Almost every week, I have the blessing of running into one of them. Have a good week, Jane!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Currently reading Nicholas Kristof’s book “TIghtrope” about the great divide in our nation which begins with looking at the deaths of kids on his school bus days in Yamhill, Oregon. He touches on the obstacles that the second student faced, ones you are very familiar with. Resiliency will only get a kid so far, I think. Each needs one adult who really cares.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 20, 2020 — 8:49 am

      I’m familiar with Kristof’s book, but I haven’t read it yet. I’ve seen many of the challenging and most difficult kids reduced to tears when they know someone cares. In the end, we all just want to be loved.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have heard that it only takes one caring adult to see a child through though I don’t have a specific citation for that.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I saw this clearly when working with kids as a mental health counselor. Environmental stability and support, the amount of stress in their lives, all had such a profound effect on that playing field. It almost seemed possible to predict success and failure, if not for that unpredictable factor of choice… I have no answers either, but I do wish that struggling families who want a better life for their children had more support.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 20, 2020 — 6:55 pm

      Mental health—one of the most overlooked problems in the world. There are so many families who need support and help, trying to deal with issues they are ill-equipped to handle.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even the stress of poverty, without mental health as a factor, is huge. It stuns me that we don’t as a nation put more resources into making sure that children are given every chance possible to be successful. We all suffer when we don’t. Clearly this is a hot topic of mine (lol). Thanks for letting me go on a bit here, Pete. Bless the teachers. Wonderful and bittersweet post.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. petespringerauthor January 21, 2020 — 12:16 pm

        I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Everywhere I go, there clearly are those suffering from mental illness, and yet people complain about homelessness throughout our communities. It’s such an apparent disconnect for me. Thank you for your efforts in this area.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree Pete. Sometimes it doesn’t matter about upbringing if they travel in certain influences. You are definitely an empath Pete. It’s hard not to let our personal feelings get involved when we want to help, yet we can’t help everyone. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 20, 2020 — 7:21 pm

      Most teachers I know get emotionally involved with their students. I’ve been to graduations, weddings, and even my first housewarming party last year for my students. It makes me feel special that they want to share these important life events with me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As you should be! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Thoughtful post, Pete. Hard not to worry about our kids – both familial and the ones we teach. We can only perhaps show by example, encourage the right path, and give love. From then on, I think it’s the core of each human to decide which path to take.

    Like

    1. petespringerauthor January 23, 2020 — 12:33 pm

      Everything you say is right on the money, Pam. I believe that a great teacher can reach a lot of students, but it would be naive to assume that having a student for one year is going to make that student overcome all of the obstacles in his life.

      One of the things that used to drive me insane about teaching was state testing. The expectation was that our young children, who may not have their most basic needs (food, shelter, and clothing) met, were supposed to care about some assessment that meant nothing to their well-being.

      Can I scream now????

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll scream with you. I worked as a tutor in high school special education for ten years – one-on-one with disabled students physically and intellectually. And I had to administer those tests to them. The poor kids’ self-confidence plunged as did their health, taking those mandated tests that show nothing of an individual’s true intelligence.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s hard not to be attached to your students, Pete. You want so much for them to succeed. I had one second grade student who was very bright but she was a foster child and had a lot of struggles. I even entertained the thought of adopting her. When I talked to her without revealing my feeling, she said she was moving because she was adopted. There are so many scenarios played in their lives. I wish it was just black and white but obvious it wasn’t. As a teacher, I could only hope that I did my part to have some influence in them and the influence played a role in their decision making, in the right direction one day. Great post, Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 23, 2020 — 6:55 pm

      I have heard of teachers adopting their students before. You must be curious about your former student. If that doesn’t define how committed teachers are to their students, I don’t know what does.

      I know we can’t rescue them all, but we should always do the best for our students. I’m sure you did, Miriam. I take a lot of pride in knowing that several of my former students have gone on to become teachers. One special memory is that one of my prior students became a teacher at my school. I got to teach with her a few years before I retired.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, Pete, what a great feeling to have that your student became a teacher and teaches at your school. She must told her students a thousand times that you were her teacher!!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Pete, this is one of your finest posts. Your heart and soul goes out to your children. You carry them with you 24/7. You do whatever you can, all you can. What a day to be recognized in a grand way by a former student, and then to see that another student was arrested on drug charges. I feel you joy, and I feel your pain. Really.

    There are a few students over the years that I tell their parents I want to have dinner with them, alone, when they are sixteen. There’s something there, and I want to see them and hear them tell me everything. I have followed through with many, and it is a wonderful thing. Yet, like you I worry about the kids that seemed lost, or had dysfunctional families. Snuggling up and reading books was always what they loved and needed. Sigh.

    Apologies for the ramble. It is the exceptional blog posts about teaching, like yours, that bring out the teacher in me. Best to you, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. petespringerauthor January 25, 2020 — 7:21 pm

      It’s not rambling, my friend. It’s about people that care about children. I worked with so many dedicated professionals that brought honor to the profession.

      One of the saddest things to me is to see so many young teachers who end up walking away within the first few years. It isn’t that they don’t have the passion or the heart, but the obstacles are there. We need to feel like that the administration supports us and gets it too. Nobody wants to be left on an island.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, Pete. Those obstacles can also be the heavy load of paperwork (much of which is done at home), class size, and no intervention for children who need it. Those three are causing teachers to leave. If there is little admin support on top of that, it takes the joy out of teaching. Sad!!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Life is so unfair… As adults, I believe our job is to love, encourage and support every child who comes into our lives. Poverty is a huge factor of discrimination here in central Maine. Fortunately, we have many organizations that reach out–however, it’s that personal one-on-one relationship between a student and a caring adult that can make a real difference. It’s evident that you are one of those people, Pete! Kudos to all who step up to the plate for lour kids!

    Like

    1. petespringerauthor March 30, 2020 — 6:59 pm

      You have summed it up nicely, Betty. Have you seen the TedTalk by Rita Pierson? One of her more telling lines is “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” It is seven and a half quality minutes. https://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion?language=en

      Like

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