There is a joke among my students, both present and former, that I know everything. The fact that I somehow know so much about what’s going on in their lives drives them crazy when they first arrive in my room. I’m upfront and tell them that 99% of what I know about them I learn from them (since I was a young girl I’ve been very good at being ignored by people and learning about them from the conversations they have in front of me). Eventually some of them pick up on it…and some do not. Once students leave my room, if they choose to stay in touch with me, they usually become even more open and frank with me – I’m not their teacher after all. Sometimes this is good…and sometimes it leads to me feeling like I’ve been hit in the chest by a Mack truck.
Today, today was a Mack truck day. We’re studying Catholic Social Teaching in religion and were discussing the first theme today: Life and Dignity of the Human Person. The group leading our discussion chose to talk about the negative impact of drugs and alcohol and how these substances go against this theme. Underage and “of age” drinking and the legal limit was discussed. Then, one girl raises her hand and asks what the blood alcohol level would need to be for someone to have to go to the hospital and be near death. I told her that I didn’t know and would have to look it up. Before I know it, she launches into a story about how she knows this girl whose blood alcohol was like a .3 (or something) and was taken to the hospital and almost died…. and it hit me. I know who she is talking about. Because a former student and I were talking and she shared with me how her friend had gotten scarily drunk and was taken to the hospital and almost died. Former student’s friend has a little sister in my current class—who is the friend of the girl asking the question. I felt the wind leave my chest like something out of a cartoon while the color simultaneously drained from my face. I actually had to excuse myself so I could go out into the hallway and pull myself together.
I know that I had known about the girl, so perhaps this shouldn’t have affected me as it did. The reality, though, was that I was caught totally unaware. I really wasn’t expecting for the situation to come up in my classroom ever. I realize now that it was also the casualness that the student spoke of the event…as if it weren’t really that big of a deal at all. I don’t know…it just really shook me. It also reminded me what’s at stake. That yes, even though there are days when I feel that what I am doing is totally useless and they don’t care or listen to me anyway…I have to keep reminding them and encouraging them so that they will be equipped to handle the crazy life situations they will encounter and will hear a little buzzing in their ear, reminding them to make good choices.