It's very easy to forget that our students have personal lives, just as they forget we have one too. Today I'm glad I remembered.
Let's call him Sam. A bright, sparky chap, but one who is lazy and prefers to talk rather than write; will find distractions rather than concentrate. Today he was lost in a daydream that just struck me as a little out of character. I left him alone to wake up for a few minutes (it was Period 1 after all) but then waded in.
'Are you alright, Sam?'
'Well, it's just you haven't done any work yet, what's the problem?'
Expecting the usual don't understand/ don't know what to do excuse, I was quite surprised with the, 'I lost someone, Miss', that I actually got.
So I told him how sorry I was, and then I told him about my stress bucket philosophy: I find it extremely useful to have a school bucket and a home bucket. When crappy things are happening at home, I don't let them add to my school stress bucket. When crappy things are happening at school, I don't let them add to my home stress bucket. If you just have one bucket, it has a habit of over-flowing.
Sam nodded and then said, 'She died of breast cancer'.
I was floored momentarily, but managed to regroup. This is something I can relate to. One of my best friends died at the age of 33 from cancer. It started as breast cancer, but spread to her liver, lungs and brain. She was a (brilliant) Head of Year at the school I still work at.
'Do you see that tree out there?' I asked, pointing out of the window, ' Well that was planted in memory of one of my friends who died of cancer. It was the point at which my home and school buckets were very hard to keep separate, but I managed to keep it together.'
He nodded, so I carried on.
'And one of the things that held me together is that I believe in immortality. I'm not religious, but I do believe that everyone you meet has an effect on you. What they say and do lives on in you; your memories of them in a way make them immortal. If they affect you and you affect someone else, then they kind of go on living.'
He continued to look at me solemnly.
'I guess all you can do is make them proud. It's one of the reasons I'm a teacher. I think that you can pass on all the amazing things other people have taught you.'
He didn't say anything, but he picked up his pen and wrote for the whole of the rest of the lesson. He even wanted to stay on to finish his work at break.
Today was one of my best days ever as a teacher.