Yesterday, the key word was exhaustion. The fact that it was Monday, and when the day was over and it was still Monday, was unthinkable. Wednesday, Thursday, surely it was much later in the week. 7:45-3:10 felt much longer than 7 hours and 25 minutes. Waves of tiredness hit all of us, at various points of the day, and the thought of going home and preparing for the next day unfathomable.
I ended up having 3 cups of coffee and a can of Coke to get through the day.
As with many bad things, one of the most striking things that I noticed about yesterday was that I still had moments when I was laughing. Not the awkward, nervous laughter that comes out of not knowing what to say or do. It was true laughter at funny things. I recognized that I was going through a range of emotions, and something the school psychologist told us stuck with me. “You may, for a second or minute or a few minutes, forget what happened. You may be happy. That’s okay.” When he said it, I understood it but I did not comprehend it. I went home exhausted at 8, passed out at 10.
This morning I woke up feeling… refreshed. Like my battery had been replaced and I had a fresh supply of energy. I had rested away the sheer exhaustion that yesterday brought on. I wasn’t sad or happy or anything — except functioning. And this, my friends, was nice.
As I approached the school, the heaviness started to set in again. But at least today I had the restedness to deal with everything. Today people were figuring out not how to cope, comfort, and deal with the shock and tiredness, but how to move forward. This wasn’t all people — but I saw smiles and laughter, overheard some normal conversations instead of yesterday’s hushed whispering and muffled whimpering. I saw hustle and bustle instead of trudging and robotic-front-stare-walking. Not that it was all roses, or roses at all. A sadness and heaviness blanketed the school, but underneath this weighty shrowd, stirrings. Stirrings. That’s when the school psychologist’s statement really was highlighted:
“You may, for a second or minute or a few minutes, forget what happened. You may be happy. That’s okay.”
And I did forget, too. Not all the time, not even a majority of the time, but there were moments when I realized I hadn’t thought about the death of our student for the past three minutes. It was initially scary — because I wondered if that made me unfeeling. I don’t think that’s the case. I think that I’m in the initial stages of moving on. Not forgetting — this students’ death will be with me for years. But moving forward. Being able to function.
Not all my students are at that point, nor should they be. Some seem to be able to function. One of my classes carried on fine. Another one was quieter but students weren’t incapacitated. The last was the hardest, because it is populated with students the grade of the student who passed away.
I knew they were not sleeping — a student told me that no one in that grade has been able to sleep well. We spent only 15 or 20 minutes learning new material, and it was very basic stuff. Almost no one raised their hands to answer my questions. When I gave them the remaining 25 minutes to work on a worksheet covering some of the same material, I told them: you can work on this if you feel you can focus, you can work alone or with friends, you can not work on this if you don’t feel you can focus, whatever. I expected students to get with their friends and maybe work on the worksheet or maybe talk. Or if they were sick of talking about the death of the student, they would at least talk about math.
But the level at which they were affected was so enormous that literally, for those 25 minutes, no one said anything to anyone. I encouraged students to work with each other, but no one moved. Teenagers, not wanting to talk. Let me say that again: Teenagers, not wanting to talk?! The only voice in the room was mine. All students worked alone on the sheet, and they worked pretty assiduously. And quietly.
In the last four minutes of class, I had to ask them if they thought us doing a small bit of lesson and some worksheet work (and no homework) was helpful. Again, silence. Quiet. One mumbled something about it being fine, and then another two said it was good.
I could have asked them if the moon was made of cheese and gotten a similar response.
It’s hard to see this class so deeply affected — because all teachers want to protect their students. But we can’t. And we’re all grieving in different ways and at different paces. I wish I could neatly tie today up in some summative way. But every hour was different, every class was different, every interaction was different.
So with that I’ll stop. I’m exhausted again. Maybe more tomorrow.