On Teaching and Loss

I lost one of my former students today.  He died from a blood disease that I didn’t even know he had. He came to me as an 11 year old from West Africa; a scared but proud boy.

He didn’t talk for the first few weeks that he was in my class, which often happens to ELL students when they are overwhelmed linguistically early in their schooling. So instead of starting the curriculum right away I brought in pictures of me in East Africa. I showed him photos of me eating traditional foods and sitting on the ground under the African sun. I showed him photos of my students and told him about how much I loved them and how much I loved Africa too. I wore my traditional skirts and jewelry to school- a white lady in an urban, city school – looking like I was off my rocker. I talked to him every day during our time together, smiled at him, and because I couldn’t tell him I tried to show him that things would be ok.

About a month into classes he started to open up and man could that kid’s smile light up the room. He grew more confident each day, applying himself to learning English with dedication and persistence way beyond his years. He struggled. He got frustrated. He got tired. And he came back day after day determined to do something about it.

I know he was a 6th grader, but I taught him using 1st and 2nd grade books. We read Click, Clack, Moo and made animal noises. I bought a farm set and his class acted out, filmed, and produced a theatric version of the book. I taught him how to use the computer and how to edit videos. I taught him how to type. I spent weeks with him and his classmates on this one project because I believed I was teaching them the skills they would need to survive in American schools.

I had that luxury. I was an ELL teacher before modules and before districts got scared and stopped believing in their teachers. I was an ELL teacher when there were actual standards that applied to my specialty area, because we knew it wasn’t fair to subject newcomers to the grade level standards they were not linguistically ready for. I was an ELL teacher when we all remembered that we were there for the kids.

At the end of that year I was asked to move to high school to help start up a new program. It was time for me to move on and it was time for my student to as well. I kept tabs on him – friended him on my teacher Facebook page, went to see him play soccer – all of those things teachers do because we love our kids, not because it’s in the job description.

This summer (three years later) I got the following message :

Hi Mrs Kelly will u like to see my GPA? You really help me a lot in school 30 :)I will never forget about my first English teacher. I remember I didn’t know how to read & write but now I’m trying :)I just want to say thank you a lot for all you did for me.

He sent me a picture of his report card. His GPA was a 4.0.  He was in high school and he wasn’t just trying, he was killing it!  He had, in just a few short years, grown into a young man that I was insanely proud of.

This is why I teach.

No state score could tell you this story. No test could measure who my student was.

I encourage you all to think about what it means to be a teacher- and what that looks like in your classroom.




Copyright: ©Kelly LaLonde, and urbanesl, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


2 thoughts on “On Teaching and Loss

  1. I was so touched by this story… and by the memories it brings up when you know you helped inspire a kid… especially one that struggles because of nothing s/he did. Keep up the real work. This is what matters. Now that young man is on the other side… whispering about what matters….


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