Since it's the last day of summer school, things are pretty quiet here. We've actually turned in the grades already, so we're just showing movies and kicking back. It gave me a little time to muse about the changes about to happen in my life, what I've done in the last year and leaving the education field.
I was over at Amy Guth's blog and read a great post about reaching out to people.
It reminded me about an article I read yesterday about 20-year-old Jeremy Hernandez, the hero on the school bus that ended up on the 35W bridge in Minneapolis when it collapsed on Wednesday.
When the bridge collapsed, the bus had fallen against the concrete embankment, making it impossible to open the door. Jeremy, who is a gym director for the summer program for children on the bus were in, jumped to the back of the bus and kicked the door open and started handing kids out to passers-by who had run over to help. There was an urgency to what he was doing-- a truck nearby had caught fire. Thanks to him, there were no fatalities on the bus.
In the article, I read that Hernandez had been studying to be an auto mechanic and had had to drop out around Christmastime last year because he ran out of money. If I had it in my financial means, I'd get my checkbook and write a check for his tuition today. I hope someone with deep pockets reads about him and does this.
I feel a special empathy for Mr. Hernandez-- he reminds me of our students. The school I have been working at for the last year takes young adults who have dropped out of high school and gets them working toward a high school diploma, and hopefully a better future.
When I started here last year, right around the time I started this blog, I was a wreck. I'd been RIF'ed from a job I loved, and had buried one of my closest friends, who was murdered by young gang members.
As I've reflected on what I've done the last year, a couple of specific moments, and students came to mind.
A few days ago, Ludovia, who we graduated in June, came by to say hello-- she was picking up her transcripts for her new job. She hung around for a while and told me about it. She's training to be work in an assisted care facility. I told her to keep an eye out for oppurtunities: that a lot of places will pay for her to upgrade her skills if she agrees to work for them for a set amount of time.
Ludovia talked about plans-- she was hoping that with this job, she'd be able to afford a nice first birthday party for her daughter in a few months. To see how excited she was about the prospects of her first job-- it was really moving. It was hard to believe that this friendly, sociable kid had been kicked out of high school for repeated fighting. It felt good to have been part of her transition to a functioning adulthood.
A little while ago, I wrote a letter of recommendation for one of my favorite students, Raul.
Raul had not dropped out of school-- he'd never attended high school. His life got off the rails somewhere along the way, but now that he's settled down with a long-term girlfriend, whom he now has two kids with, he wanted to move forward.
Raul may or may not finish high school-- he's got a lot of credits to make up, and even between this place and night school, it may be difficult to finish. However, he has a plan. He has started an apprenticeship to work as a tattoo artist.
Yesterday, Raul came by my room and asked a favor: he'd had to bring his tattoo-artist tools with him to school because he had to go to work right afterward. He asked me to keep his tools at my desk. He could have left them at the security desk, but he asked me to safeguard these tools that are the key to his new livlihood and future. I suddenly realized that I had provided something that had been lacking before in his life: trust.
Last October, I wrote a post about the death of my friend Mark, and how working here was very healing in dealing with my grief. I'd commmented on how I'd had the realization that everything in these kids' lives up to this point had let them down-- school, family, church, etc. As I get ready to leave this job, I've been reflecting on how difficult it was at times. But I don't think anything else I could have done could have done more help me past the pain of my friend's murder.
In her post, Amy talked about a terrible automobile accident she'd had, and how some truck driver had come to her aid immediately, and mentioned other situations where people weren't so eager to help. It got me to thinking about something I read years ago: "Who would have to be in what kind of trouble for you to change your life to help them?"
That's a real challenge, isn't it? I think about times I've helped someone: I've bought homeless people meals; I've pulled my car over and jump-started strangers' cars; stopped and helped up people who have fallen; jumped in and broken up fights when I saw bullying or a mismatch. None of those things really required a life change. Being a teacher on other hand, did. I'd have to say that my time as a teacher, particularly this last year, have been the times I have most felt like I was really helping someone.
In our lives, we get these moments in which we face a choice: to help or not to help. The other day, Jeremy Hernandez faced that choice and jumped in the saddle and helped. I hope someone sees that they too have a choice-- to help this kid finish school.
I'm leaving teaching because I had to make some blunt economic choices-- I have two kids who'll need college tuition in a few years, and a pretty wife whom I want to make sure is comfortable when we retire. But in leaving today, I feel good. I feel like I made a difference. And I hope, like Amy wrote, that people look for chances, big or small, to make a difference. Because, you see, it's the best damned feeling I've ever felt.