Heartbreaking Conversation with a Student Today

Sometimes as a teacher, I get a little too preoccupied with the lesson and ensuring the safety of the classthat I forget about the kids I am teaching. It takes something like today to remind me that the fact that when they’re falling asleep during class it is not necessarily a comment on my teaching ability. It could be that they have a job after school that kept them up late or a younger sibling who kept them awake. Maybe there was something bothering them that caused them to stare at the ceiling all night. I don’t know because most of the time they sit through class and then just walk out. Other than asking me if they’re doing something correctly, there isn’t a lot of back and forth in my classroom.

But today, one of my students came up to me after class and asked me if I had a few moments to talk. I actually had a free period after this particular period, and I think she knew that. This student is very middle of the road—she sits through class, completes her projects on time, not comfortable with the equipment but isn’t failing either. Since my class isn’t mandatory, I do sometimes wonder why she’s in the room at all.

I found out today. It seems her dad actually used to work in construction but got injured on the job. He can’t work anymore and has been having a tough time. She thought that if she took my class, she could go home and have something to talk to him about. That maybe he would get interested in her projects and try to get back into the field again. It hasn’t worked so far; although it sounded totally unrelated to me, she reported that her dad has actually gotten worse. The reason she was talking to me about all of this was because she wanted to know if she could do some extra credit. She was hoping to take some supplies home and see if she could get her dad to help her assemble something. By the time she got done with her story, she was crying.

Now, I am a man who works with teenagers and power tools all day. I am used to the stupid, disrespectful, and dangerous. Not emotional. I didn’t really know what to say to her. I certainly have never had anybody ask me to take home an extra credit project; I’ve had kids stay after school to finish an existing project or do an extra assignment to prevent a failing grade, but this was new. And when I told her I didn’t have anything available for her to take home, the crying got worse.

I quickly clarified that I didn’t have anything right then, but that I’d find something for her to take home. She hugged me and thanked me a few times. That was uncomfortable. On the one hand, I wanted to comfort her and I understood why she hugged me. But at the same time, the school has policies and I don’t want anything to be misinterpreted by anyone who may have seen the interaction between the two of us.

Now I just have to think of something she can make and pay for the supplies out of my own pocket. I really hope that this works out for her.

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