Topic: Death of a Student

By: Laura Craig, Parent-School Connection
2/2/2006

The relationship between a teacher and student is special. Before the child first walks through the classroom door you take ownership. For weeks before school starts, you check off lists, make nametags, assign seats, and label folders. By the time you have a smile to attach to the name, you feel like you already know them.

I have The relationship between a teacher and student is special. Before the child first walks through the classroom door you take ownership. For weeks before school starts, you check off lists, make nametags, assign seats, and label folders. By the time you have a smile to attach to the name, you feel like you already know them.

For the next nine months they become "your kids." You watch them grow and change. They challenge you, delight you, annoy you and consume much of your waking moments. Throughout the year you share their triumphs and failures and then they move on. The classroom cycle begins again.

But, no matter how many years pass, you still hold them locked in time and age, in the year that they were one of "your kids". Chance meetings around town are those little perks of teaching that make up for long hours and mediocre pay. When a former student sees you, their eyes light up. You may not immediately recognize them. Sometimes it may take a moment or two to place their name. (Kids are not the only ones getting older.) But you remember them.

You recall where they sat in class, what they excelled in or struggled with. You are reminded of what made them unique: their laugh, their dead-on impersonation of the principal or the fifth grade whale report that blew the rest of the class away. In your mind, they are still the third/fifth/seventh grader from just yesterday.

It is often hard to reconcile that this tall young man or woman claiming to be little Jane or Johnny is indeed the same person. For the small part you played in their journey to get where they are today, you take pride in their accomplishments. The chance encounter always leaves you with a warm glow. After all, they were once one of "your kids".

I remember the first time I went through a fast food drive window and had one of my former third graders ask if I wanted fries with my burger. I felt incredibly old. Where did the time go?

As the years go by I have grown accustomed to waiters and grocery clerks saying "Hi Mrs. Craig. Remember me?" I haven't yet had one introduce me to their children, but I suspect that will be happening before too long. But nothing prepared me for the phone call I received this past week.

My son called from college and began the conversation with, "Mom, you remember Brittany Simpson?" Immediately in my memory scrapbook I recalled Brittany. Tall and lanky (foreshadowing her high school basketball career), I remember her as a sixth grader in the green Christian Academy uniform. Brittany was never at a loss for friends. She was smart, athletic, cute and admired by her classmates. My response was, "Sure, I remember Brittany."

And them came the terrible words, "Mom, she died today."
Impossible. Maybe it was just some horrible rumor. Later that evening I drove by Brittany's house. Cars lined the streets. Through lit up windows I saw the friends, family and neighbors who had come to confirm the unthinkable and comfort the parents whose world was forever shattered.

It was true. Eighteen-year-old Brittany was gone.
Driving back to college on a clear sunny Tuesday morning, after spending a weekend back in the Woodlands with family and friends, she lost control of her car. Traveling north on I-45, just past Huntsville, her life ended. In a blink of a moment a thriving, beautiful girl is gone.

Car accidents claim young lives all the time, but this was a student with whom I shared a school year. In the proper order of the universe, parents don't bury their children. Teachers don't attend a student funeral.

In the fifteen years since I begun teaching, I have never lost a student I had personally taught. It has hit me hard. Partly because I can only imagine her parents' grief. The pain is too great for us fortunate parents to even contemplate. So we don't. We can't.

In recent years Brittany and I have crossed paths, but in my mind and heart she is still the child in one of my old classroom photographs. Sporting a self-conscious metallic braces smile, tousled hair Brittany has a red ribbon dangling around her neck. She had just won a sixth grade spelling bee. Life was ahead of her. That's the memory of Brittany I will keep.

I always knew my students were valuable beings, entrusted in my care for just a short time. But it takes loosing one to remind me again how precious each life is and what sadness it is to lose one.

Laura Craig is an award-winning teacher and writes the syndicated features, Fun-n-Facts for Brain-iacs and Brain-Boost. She may be reached at Lcraig154@aol.com