Slice of Life: Stopped Cold

Today was an adjustment for my 5th graders  Their last day in class was November 21st. A lot has happened to them in the week we weren’t together.  Lots to catch up on. To figure out.

My morning class seemed to flow. They jumped back into the routine.

By the time the second class rolled in, recess had happened, students were reaching their max in terms of focus. Tired bodies and minds had the need to go to the bathroom, walk around, talk, get drinks of water.

There were many one-on-one conversations and many worked to solve their problems on their own.

One student in particular was having a rough time. This isn’t unusual for B. We talked.  About books, about where he should work. About keeping his thoughts in his head until it was time to talk. About the choices he could make on the playground and in the classroom.

After lunch — My students migrate from the yard to the classroom. I walk behind two souls who are beautiful, bright and don’t fit comfortably in classrooms. They are too big in spirit. I watch them bouncing and spinning as we move towards the door. One of them is B.

We get into reading and things seems to settle. I sigh and send a silent thank you to the gods of patience that guide me. Then a bit of unrest starts up in the space B inhabits. I overhear him tell another student, “I won’t be in school tomorrow.”


I call him over and ask about his planned absence.

“I’m going to a funeral.”

“Oh no, a relative?”

“Yeah. My cousin.”

I pause and ask, “How old?”

“18,” he tells me. “He was shot. In his apartment. By police.”

I’m stopped. Cold.

This is what happened on his Thanksgiving break. This is what was in his head as I talked with him about books about his choices on the yard about school.  Oh my.

I was too busy managing busyness, the seating, iPads, shopping for books, book talks, recommendations, blog, vocabulary, read aloud, all the little things. The usual.

I didn’t hear what I needed to hear until the end of the day. We didn’t get to what we needed to get to today.

When I got home I googled “18 year old shot.”  I found his cousin, plus this report from The Daily Beast. Tragic, by anyone’s measure. This is happening right here, right now to our children. Eight years from now, will it be the boys in my classroom? This quote from Roxanne Gay cited  on Vicki Vinton’s recent blog post keeps ringing in my ears:

How do we see one another as human, as having lives that matter, as people deserving of inalienable rights?

Vicki goes on to offer hope and a challenge.

I believe the answer lies in part in classrooms and in people like the ones I heard at NCTE who are trying to help children revise, rewrite, recast and reimagine the stories of their lives so that we can all be and do better.

This is a big challenge. I’m not sure I know how.  But, I know I need to try.

I’ve found some good resources at #FergusonSyllabus. These were the few that spoke to me: Lee Warren’s  tips  could work at any grade level.  Jen Cort also offers sound advice here for dealing with uncomfortable but meaningful issues.  I’ve also got this chat on my calendar.

If you are so inclined, add in your thoughts, tips, recommendations in the comments. My thanks to you lovely Slicers.

Thank you Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara four Slice of Live Tuesdays. Read more slices here.



16 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Stopped Cold

  1. Oh Julieanne, I am crying as I read this. I’m so grateful that B has you for a teacher. I have no words. It seems as if this is all getting out of control…too fast. I’m saying a prayer for B today and for you. Thanks for the info on the chat! I will mark it on my calendar too! Sending hugs!!!!

  2. This is so sad and yet I read the papers and hear the news, such “slices” of life are still happening… our treasured youth. I got a twinge in my chest as I read your slice similar to the one I had last night when I learned the reality of a child-football player at OSU. I too am saying a prayer for B (and grateful he can talk to you) as well as his cousin.

  3. You did the right thing. B was probably welcoming the regular talk, the comfort in your relationship. This is so sad and tragic. Your loving presence will be there for him and for your other students. What is going on? I am so saddened and shock by this tragic behavior lately. Things must change!

  4. We have a former student who shared often enough that he heard gunshots nearly every night in his neighborhood, that coming to school was a comfort, & as Margaret said, being with you was helpful. I’m glad you finally found out about this, Julieanne, but what always shocks me is that it isn’t front page news. Shouldn’t it be?

  5. We know that our classrooms are often the “safest” places for our children. Literally. You were worried about a week off for Thanksgiving break and rightly so. Life for some students is tragic and seems to be a burden beyond belief. Thoughts and prayers for you, your class, and B.

  6. Julieanne, I have faced this same situation too many times in my own classroom. Embrace your students and know you are a light in their lives. Thinking of you and B.

  7. I have been thinking of your kiddo all day, Julieanne. This reminds me of a question Chris Lehman posed at the Wonderopolis session:how well do we really know the lives our lids lead? Because their out of school lives so impact anything they do in school. Lucky he has you , though.

  8. Morning Meetings were always longer after a holiday and it wasn’t because everyone was catching up on their tropical vacations. It’s because we always had lots of stuff to sort out as a class. There was always tragic stuff happening to my kids. It’s so, so hard. I feel like you’ve got the right mindset, Julieanne. I’m glad B has you as his teacher.

  9. How incredibly sad and how lucky B is to have you as his teacher. Like Tara, I thought of Chris Lehman’s questions about the students in our classrooms. There is so much that happens in some of our students’ lives that is so very different from the lives we live. It brings everything into perspective.

  10. Thank you for sharing these resources and this slice. It’s better to be heard late than not at all. Sometimes being distracted by the daily routine is a welcome reprieve from the sadness. It’s clear that you care about B and all your students. And that matters.

  11. Deep sorrow that any child must face this kind of reality. You DO make a difference, every day. My prayers are with you and your students.

  12. Thinking of you and your kiddo! I have been in this space – this was and is the lives of the children I have taught. Listen, be there and hold a routine that feels safe and predictable since right now the other parts of his life are not. Just be there – book in hand – it is what he knows and expects from you! Hang in there!

  13. Yes to all our colleagues have said. Thank you for sharing your experience… Yes too many of this kind of experience and yet it always takes one by surprise. We envision so much for for our kids. 💙

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