At First, I Walked by (essay from several years ago)

From several years ago, when I was an exhausted nearly broken full-time teacher at a large high school, I wrote this:

I WALKED BY…AT FIRST…

And I did walk by him, started to go to my car. I did not want to stop. It had been a rough, rough day…. and tomorrow I had a tough formal observation tomorrow, really tough observer.

But I had to go back. No, no, I thought. We are here for the kids. A moral duty. I KNOW something’s not right.

He had the look I’ve seen on kids who are homeless, waiting for the taxis to take them to their shelters.

Taxi companies don’t like these fares, for the suburban companies don’t get return trips from the shelters and they don’t get tips from the kids.

And yes, he’d been waiting for FIVE HOURS for a taxi. Soon, he would HAVE to leave the building , since it would be locked up.

Fortunately, I found the late security person, a wonderful SK I must thank more tomorrow. She and I found the taxi company, insisted they come soon as they had a contract with the school, then waited until the taxi came and RK got in the taxi. Don’t let him out of our sight, I told SK. I was afraid he’d be dumped on the corner.

And I cried. Ashamed I’d not wanted to stop. Annoyed I was so tired. Ashamed that I’d become one of those teachers, who put the stuff we teach above the kids.

As we are told, it’s our job to teach, not be social workers.

But who would look out for the RK’s of the school if not us? He had no other way home. He looked exhausted, dirty, and hungry.

As to the latter? Good thing I had treats in my car for the creative writing club that meets later this week.

RK took “home” brownies and protein bars.

He shook my hand as he left, made him write down my name and SK’s name, reminded him we wanted him in school and apologized for adults letting him down.

His eyes, his eyes, his eyes. The eyes of an old man who’d seen too much in a 15 year old boy.

 *  *  *

The next day, RK was not in school.  I never saw him again. Did I imagine this entire incident? No, I had called my boss for help, not knowing what to do. I wasn’t leaving a 15 year old alone.  My boss called her boss who offered to come sit with RK, and I said no, I’m already here, I am sitting with SK from security, and I will stay until he gets his ride.

I’m sorry, RK, I almost forgot why I’m a teacher. I’m ashamed of what I’ve become. What we have sometimes become as we stress over and with corporate “reforms” that put test scores and “growth” scores on the backs of teachers who need to support their families, too and sometimes pit student needs vs. teacher needs to survive.

It’s not right. It’s not good enough.  My reaction was not good enough.

I nearly kept on walking.