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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

SLICE OF LIFE

Early May. A Thursday morning. 7:50 a.m. I am paged to the office. There is a minor emergency. I need to put aside my literacy coaching duties and cover the eighth grade music class.The students are waiting for me. The secretary hands me the lesson plans, and I hustle upstairs, wondering what I know about teaching eighth grade music.

I am pleased to discover that I do not have to sing or play recorders, instead, students will be writing reflective pieces about an upcoming performance. The eighth graders are not so pleased. They do not want to write during music. They do anything they can to avoid getting started-  try to catch a little more sleep,  argue with me about the purpose of writing in music class, poke at each other,  argue with me some more, horse around with each other, argue with me again.

M is sitting on the right side of the room, surrounded by a group of drooling admirers. She is darling- petite, long dark hair, large dark eyes, and a quick smile and ready laugh. Her fan club is large and loud, and I make my way toward that side of the room to try and initiate some kind of order. The boys grumble as I encourage them to find paper and pencil and get started. M doesn't need my help, however. Despite the uproar, she has almost a full page of writing. I am struck by her integrity, her desire to do the right thing when it would be so much easier to succumb to peer pressure.

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Noon recess. Late May. Three eighth grade girls approach me with a special request.  The administration at our school has a strict no phone policy and they want to know if I will them them use music from one of the girl's phones, just this once, so they can practice their dances for M's upcoming quinciñera. I send them to the far corner of the playground, where they spend the next thirty minutes happily dancing. Again, I am struck by the girls' integrity. They probably could have just gone to the corner of the playground and not even asked about the phone and I never would have known…
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Early June. Eighth grade continuation. I am on crowd control in the library with 45 eighth graders. M is darling in a short black skirt, bright orange blouse, and high, high heels. As always, she is the center of an adoring fan club. Sometime during the continuation ceremony, the office gets a call. M's mom, a long time lupus struggler,  hospitalized right after the quinciñera, has passed away.

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Yesterday. The funeral, at 4:00, is all in Spanish. About a third of the eighth grade class, along with five staff members, attend.  M sits next to her dad and high school brother. My heart breaks as I see her tear-stained face and mussed hair. There are no words to say to this sweet, sweet girl on this hard, hard day.

12 comments:

Nanc said...

What a beautiful story about those students who have learned what that word 'integrity' is all about. M and her family...what a loss. May M surround herself by people that will encourage her along the way...those that will give her strength to continue to move towards her goals and dreams. xo

Linda at teacherdance said...

Oh my, Carol. Life is so hard for kids anyway, not counting this hardest thing, losing a parent. I think it's so nice you've noticed M, and can reach out to her. It seems that she has learned much from her mother, doesn't it? I hope she can carry that comfort.

writekimwrite said...

I have been missing your voice Carol. This piece has left me not knowing what to say either. This is certainly a hard knock on a young girl's life. You were there for her and that is important. I think you pay tribute to M's mom by the sweet portrait of her daughter you shared here.

Tabatha said...

So sorry to hear this, Carol. What a difficult load to bear. I'm glad her mother was alive for her quinciñera and that she has support from her friends and teachers. You captured this poignant slice well.

Diane Andeson said...

Times like these leave us wordless, but your presence speaks. I am glad you were there for M and her family.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

I felt I was getting to know M, as you wrote about her through May. What big changes and challenges have come into this child's life in the space of a single month!

Karen said...

Carol, this is so heartbreaking. I loved learning about M over the course of a year; I knew her in a few of my students. But that last part is so difficult.
Hoping the presence of the students and the 5 teachers was of some solace in such a horrible time.

Cathy said...

Carol,
What a sad story. I hope that Ms strength will carry her through these difficult times. It is a hard time in life to lose your mother. I hope M hears your story and sees what you have noticed in her.

Cathy

Ruth Ayres said...

Carol,
The way you made me adore M from the beginning of this post just made the reality of the fragility of life stab me in the gut a little harder. I'm glad you were there to support her yesterday. I'm sure you will continue to support her as the days roll past.
Ruth

Michelle said...

Your words took my breath away. A story that I wish was only a story.

Penny Jansen said...

This made me cry. I know 8th graders so well and you captured them. So sorry about her mom.

Beverley Baird said...

What a poignant piece Carol. Some kids just have such hard lives and yet they seem to rise above the hardships. Such wonderful stories of integrity. Thanks for sharing them.