I work with troubled youth.
I have a teen who is repeating 11th grade English for the 3rd time. Part of the course in my county is a research paper attached to a "graduation project." I suspected that the lack of a paper had derailed him in past attempts for the course.
First step? I asked him to think about a topic he wanted to spend some time with. A few days later I asked for his topic choice.
He chose "Child Abuse." I supported his choice. He was instantly indignant. Said if he'd been "allowed" to chose that topic before, he would have passed the first two times he took this course. I asked why his choice was not accepted? He said because his teacher said it "had already been done."
OK, side rant here. How the heck are kids supposed to be interested in something BRAND new every year? Can't we do a better job at guiding the writing process so we know we aren't getting recycled papers???
I simply answered that we could narrow his focus so that his paper was his, and that it was more important to me that he care about his topic since we were going to spend so much time on it.
This conversation took place with me at my desk and him across the room at a computer. He is the only junior I have at this point. An innocent enough conversation.... That led to him asking if I knew why he wanted to address that topic. And then this 18 year old child that I have known for 4 days, tells me a heartbreaking story of the time he did something, (he is sure that he did something, but he can't remember WHAT exactly, but something. And despite him begging his football coach NOT to call his dad his dad was called to school) and his dad "disciplined" him in a way that made him feel like it might have "slipped over" into abuse. Given that he took a boot to the face as part of the beating, I am pretty sure he is right in that assessment.
I am frozen at my desk, looking at the back of this adult sized male telling me a heartbreaking truth. I don't move. I don't interrupt. I am conscious of the clock, because the class time is coming to a close.
Class change is upon us. I get up and I walk over to stand next to his computer. I say quietly, "I am sorry this happened to you." I manage not to cry. I add that "It doesn't matter" what he did that he can't remember. "No child... NO HUMAN BEING, but especially a child of any age, deserved to be treated that way."
As if that weren't enough?
Today, same student, responds to "how was your weekend?" with "pretty terrible."
His brother was killed in a head on collision Friday night. 20 years old, with a two year old son. His gf (pregnant again) was in the car and is in critical condition and may lose the baby. Four in the car, two dead, two seriously injured.
I got to view the news footage and had all the people identified for me. His eyes were wet with tears as he described crying and crying and then laughing because he couldn't cry any more.
I heard the story of how he learned about this brother. They nearly came to blows two years ago, and when his dad was called to the school, he told the two boys they were brothers.
I heard the story about how his brother didn't think he would graduate but he did. He got that cap and his smile was "so big..."
I heard about the child and the unborn baby who are going to grow up without a daddy.
I heard about how his smile was contagious and you couldn't help but smile too.
I felt inadequate. And I felt privately ashamed. Because I had seen the headline for the "Third accident involving teens" and I had assumed the teens were at fault. Texting and driving. Or just teenaged inattentive driving. But for whatever faults these teens may have had, they were NOT at fault in this accident. It looks like the driver who crossed the center line and struck their car may have been under the influence.
I felt at a loss and bewildered that this man/child was at school in this day of grief and so far from family. He seemed lost, and cut off. (We take cell phones during the AM search.) I offered to take him to check his phone, to see if there were messages. He said he didn't get service in the building anyway...
So helpless. So sad.