“Please don’t give up on me.”

There are a couple of kids each week that I check in with on Monday, set weekly goals, and then follow up with on Friday afternoon. I try to vary the hours in which I call them down so they don’t miss even more class than they already do. I have one young man whose goal is strictly attendance. We are still trying to make it to every class, every day. Sometimes I call in to his classes; other times I simply walk by his classroom and wave at him just to make sure. Another’s goal is to focus on just one class. She can get overwhelmed and her transcript shows that she hasn’t passed a class yet. For another young man, we are working on developing necessary “soft skills” of making to-do lists, setting deadlines, and following through with actually turning in the work. This all came about after I learned he does many of his assignments, but they rarely make it in for credit.

But I’ve been thinking a lot more about how I approach these students, especially after my Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday, a student was taken to the hospital. Whenever we cannot get a hold of parents or they cannot be there in a reasonable amount of time, an administrator goes with the student. Thankfully this post is not about that student. He’s fine. Mom and dad eventually arrived. There was no major concern.

But this post is about other students. As I sat in the emergency room waiting area for the student to be checked in, I overheard, “There’s Mr. English,” whispered behind me. I turned around and I saw a student I didn’t know by name, sitting there with who I assumed to be his grandfather. I nodded and smiled, but I didn’t say anything. I wanted to protect his privacy and not intrude.

As I kept waiting, another student walked in with her mother. We smiled and nodded, but we didn’t have to say anything. Her mother was in pain. That was her focus. They, too, sat down, and began waiting to be called back.

I was at the hospital for over an hour and a half. The student I was with had arrived by ambulance and was seen quickly. These other students had arrived by car or by bus. They were still waiting when I had left.  This is not commentary on the process of the hospital for choosing which individuals to see first. I have mad respect for healthcare workers.

This is, however, a reflection on what I noticed in these students the very next day when I saw them in school. I called one of them over during passing time, and whispered, “Is everything all right?” He kindly shared that it was a “late night.” I patted him on the back, reminding him that I was glad he was at school. “Yeah, but I didn’t get all of my homework done.”

I encouraged him to talk with his teachers about what had happened, where he had been, how he was trying to offer comfort and support to a loved one that was in considerable pain. He nodded, but I also respected his request to not tell anyone about his “personal business.” Growing up and having spent countless nights in the hospital with my own mother, I understood completely.

So I write all of this because I’m thinking a lot more about the time when we don’t see students. When they’re at the hospital with a loved one in pain, or they are taking care of their younger siblings and just cannot find a quiet space to do their school work. Or when a student is working multiple jobs to help support his family financially because his father was injured at work.

And I am thinking through my approach, especially when one of the students I checked in with disappointed me. The three goals that we had set for the week weren’t met. I was disappointed, and I am sure the look showed on my face and in the tone in my voice. I don’t know all of his circumstances, like whether or not he was just like some of the other students I saw earlier in the week and had spent the night at the hospital. As much as I try, I cannot fully fathom all of the hardships that my kids go through.

But we agreed again that we would re-focus and meet on the Monday after break and that this time, he wouldn’t let me down. I asked him what he needed from me. He paused for a long time, looked me in the eyes and said, “I hear that adults are disappointed in me all the time. Please don’t give up on me.” I nodded. He stuck out his hand, and I assured him that I wouldn’t.