I have to go to a funeral for a student today.
Her name is Selena.
This has been a first for me. There have been students that died since I’ve started teaching, even a student killed when I was student teaching, but never a kid that I knew as well as Selena.
She was in my Spanish II class last semester and she got involved in international club. She was a faithful member, a part of every meeting and service project we did. When I had her in class, she would always come early and stay late to tell me stuff. She would always come in and say “¿Qué sabes?”, literally meaning “what do you know?” Which confused me the first time, but she told me that colloquially it means “guess what!?”. She would tell me some story about her life. They most often revolved around her daughter, Gabby. I will never forget when she told me about Gabby’s first steps. The excitement on her teenage girl faced, mixed perfectly with that of a mother so proud, and in disbelief, that her little girl was walking. Some of my favorite times teaching were hearing about Selena’s life. She was quiet in class and kept to herself and didn’t strike me as one to open up to teachers often. We just clicked, I guess. There are many different kinds of students, some, like friends , you just immediately hit it off with and can talk about virtually anything. She was one of those. We would talk about it all… Medicare, childbirth, other students love lives (we had a particularly dramatic situation in our class), the weather and what the cafeteria forced them to eat that day.
I didn’t see Selena as much last semester, although she would pop in periodically on international club business or selling donuts for a fundraiser for prom. We would talk for a few minutes about the usual, classes, Gabby, senior project, how awesome our Spanish III class would be next semester and then she would be on her way. The last time I saw her was the week I got back from Paris. I was stressing out all week about various work related issues and she came in to ask if I would buy some donuts to help her pay for senior trip. I remember that I was working on the computer doing something and I honestly don’t remember if we talked beyond that. I told her that I didn’t have any money and to come see me after Thanksgiving, and I would buy some from her then. I don’t think I asked her about classes or Gabby or anything. I honestly can’t remember. This breaks my heart.
I got the news of her car accident on Thanksgiving in the evening. I had removed my teacher twitter off my phone for the long weekend but I logged in on a whim, with nothing else to do, just to be nosy and read what my students were up to.
This whole thing has been surreal. I am having a hard time understanding why my heart aches so terribly, in a way that feels what I imagine to be parental. This girl was my student. She was mine to teach, to protect, to know, to enjoy. My heart hurts in this body numbing way that makes me wish that the whole world could stop for just a few minutes so I can wrap my mind around what this means. I am numb as I sit and try to figure out why irregular preterite is important when Selena will not be here to graduate in June. I cannot fathom walking through the doors of our school and not seeing her in the hallways.
Today in our data system I received a message that Selena Cruz was removed from my Spanish III section next semester and NCWISE wanted me to approve it. Had I been alone in my classroom I would have yelled and screamed and cried all the reasons why I do not approve. But there were two students taking a test and my student assistant working diligently on his senior project nearby, so I just sat and stared at my choices. Approve, or ignore until tomorrow when I log back in. I don’t know how long I stared, but I reluctantly approved the change.
I sat in my car for twenty minutes in the parking lot this morning, getting the courage to walk past the flagpole where our school flag flies at half mast.
So the immediate lessons learned from this for me? In every interaction with students, show them that I care for them. Every single interaction, regardless of if they deserve it or not.
God is good. In the midst of this sorrow he has shown me in many different ways that he is good and just and loving and comforting. Oh, how he comforts.
Everybody, wear your seatbelt.