I know we have said many many times, that teaching is not about the test on this blog. Here is one more example.
I had a student named Leandra (pseudonym) about 8 or 9 years ago. She was a handful and her mother was too. The child was loud, bossy, she often solved her problems physically, and she had a wicked sense of humor. Her mother, Belinda, was the same way but more so. Her mother, at the ripe old age of 22 had a cutting wit, a lovely smile, and a laugh that filled a room. She also had her problems. She had a quick temper and at 6′ 4″ with shoulders wider than my own she learned to plow her way through life at an early age. We had a lot of conversations about life and raising children. Three years later I taught her son, Leander. Both children were named after their father, Lee. He was a troubled sort but he loved her with a passion. He stood about 4′ 10″, he had trouble understanding some things, and he made a rough life. She balanced him with her intellect and he loved her with all his heart and to the best of his ability. I could see how he loved her in how she talked about him. But, this is not a fairy tale.
By the time Belinda brought Leander to me there had been rumors of anger driven abuse that floated through our school about Leandra. I knew Belinda pretty well by then. We had kept up our relationship after Leandra moved on to upper grades.
At my first meeting with Belinda I told her point blank, “You know I love your kids, and I want the best for you and them but, if Leander comes in here with a mark, I will have to call CPS (child protective services).”
“I know Mr. Holland.”, Belinda said. She smiled that smile when she said it, like she was trying to make me laugh.
“I mean it. You know that right?” I said.
“I know, I know,” she said.
That was how we started the school year. Saying what I said was the type of risk I have grown accustomed to taking while working in the inner city. I knew that if I had to call she would know it was me but it was more important that I was honest with her and that she trusted me than that I hide behind anonymity. I could see she respected me for being honest with her. She was really involved with our class in September. I had known her son since he was 1 year old because she used to bring him into our class to pick up Leandra. He had spent a year in our school in a three-year-old classroom across the hall. He was coming to me as a four-year-old, and I was totally pumped to teach him. He was excited too. Mom volunteered in class, came for her parent conference and then it was time for our first field trip to the pumpkin patch at the end of October. Belinda came with Leander and the had so much fun. They seemed really happy.
That weekend a neighbor called CPS because Belinda had lost her temper. Leander didn’t come back to school the next week. Eventually, on Thursday, Belinda told me that Leander and Leandra had been taken to live in a foster home for a while. He never came back to my class. I eventually found out that Leander was at another school with a Head Start classroom. I went over to visit one time but the foster parent had not been bringing him to school.
Belinda told me she had to do community service and attend parenting classes in order to regain custody of her kids. She did. I heard through the grape vine that she had started attending church where she took the classes. She came in and saw me in my class and we talked several times through out that year. She told me she had been abused herself. She said, “You know, its what I know. My dad did it to me so I did it to them. But I’m not gonna do it no more.” Eventually Belinda did get her kids back.
About 2 years ago Belinda came to see me at my office. She told me she had kept her kids, and that she was doing well. She had two more children with her husband, Lee. She seemed pretty happy. I encouraged her to consider going back to school and maybe attend community college. It meant a lot to me that she came to see me. I hope it meant I made a difference in her life and the lives of her children.
Tuesday I got a text from a friend that Belinda had died suddenly over Spring break. She was 30 years-old. That cold fact lodged itself in my heart was not been fully processed. I didn’t realize how much it affected me until Wednesday when I told my family about her. I had had two crappy days of teaching in a row and that isn’t how I roll. I may take a dip in effectiveness but never a nose dive.
Teaching is not the type of profession where you can just clock out at the end of the day. It lives with you. Rest in peace Belinda.