Last week I had a couple of meetings to go to during lunch. While on my way to meeting number two, I saw a girl I had in class last year. She was visibly upset. Her face was blotchy with crying, though she was trying to get herself back under control.
I approached her, and I said the only words I could think to say: “Are you Ok?”
Now, if I were her, my sarcastic streak might make itself known. “Fuck no” might be my response.
Instead she said, “Yeah,” while shaking her head and breaking down again. I asked her what was wrong, but she was crying too hard. I told her I took back my question.
“Just take a few minutes…”
I stood by her somewhat awkwardly while she cried, just trying to be there for her. Eventually she hugged me, and I hugged her back.
She was trying to get into a classroom to get her stuff. We knocked for a bit, and someone finally let us in.
I asked if someone was coming to pick her up that day, or if she’d be staying for the last bit of the day. She was staying. She was still crying, but not so hard.
I told her if she needed more time to collect herself she could come sit in my room. That I’d write her a pass. I let her know I had students during the last period, but she was welcome to come chill in the back.
She didn’t take me up on my offer. Later I messaged her through the school’s e-mail equivalent to make sure she was Ok. She said she was better, and that she really appreciated me checking on her. She wrote, “You actually care about the students that you work with and I can’t say that for a lot of teachers.” She said she’d stop by to see me. She hasn’t, but that’s Ok.
I am glad that she wrote what she did about me caring, because you see, I do. That’s the sort of thing that makes my job worthwhile. I get to be there for these students through good stuff and through bad. I get to share some of what I’ve learned about vulnerability, about living daringly, in the hopes they’ll carry some of it forward.
Yet, I regret how I initially approached her. In reflection, “Are you Ok?” isn’t such a caring question to someone who is obviously distraught. The answer is always yes, and the person who is in that distraught place will always wish it was no.
I was thinking about that after parting ways with her. I decided that in the future I will make sure to say, “Is there anything I can do for you?” That question doesn’t ignore that there is something big going on. And it shows that I’m willing to dig in and help.
I still don’t know what was going on with that girl that day, but I’m glad I could be there for her. I’m glad I’m in in a place where I could be there for her. Once upon a time I might not have been so empathetic, patient, helpful…
All in a day’s work for a teacher.