I saw two ex-students yesterday. Both female, both lovely girls but both very different.
The first one was a girl I taught three or four years ago(maybe five?) in year 12 ESL. A brilliant student who went on to do bio-medicine at Melbourne Uni, she was one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever seen. She had a lot to live up to: her grandparents were literally rocket scientists and the family expectations were large. The class she was in was a great group of kids, but she really stood out. One of those people who seem to be good at everything they touch…. though in her case I’m pretty sure natural talent was hugely helped out by an exceptional work ethic.
She was walking past the school as I was racing to get to work on time. (I’m usually late in the mornings.Too many things to do/chickens to feed…) You know how you glance at someone, then do a double-take when you recognise something about them? We both did the exact same thing, then stopped and had a quick chat. She’s doing graduate work and still achieving big things. She said that she’s busy but happy, studying interesting things and enjoying her life. She looked mature and self possessed, a far cry from the quiet little thing she was in high school. It was lovely to see her again and to see her well on the way to reaching what she wanted to do in life. It’s moments like that that make you glad to be involved in these kids’ lives.
Then later on that day I was walking to the letter box on the corner near the 7/11 to post a couple of things for customers. I had the last two periods off and I needed to get rid of the cobwebs, so I set off at a quick pace to get some exercise. As I was walking up the street I saw a small group of kids ahead of me, all in ‘civilian’ clothing, so they weren’t any of our students. As I began to catch up with them I began to wonder if the girl in the group was T… a year 8 girl who when I’d marked the roll in period three I’d noticed had exited the school.
T’s a lovely girl with a very difficult home life. Her mother had recently moved the whole family away to the very end of the train line so T was taking nearly an hour to get to school each day. She’d approached me towards the end of last term to talk about some issues she had with depression and all that goes with it, which I referred on to the school counciller (which by law I’m obliged to do.) She’s beginning to fall in with an older, fairly racy crowd and I’m not the only one to be concerned for her. I caught up to this group of older boys and this girl and called out, “T, is that you?”
She turned around. She came walking over to me and I asked what was going on. Sure enough, the commute had got too much for her and she’s now enrolled in a school far closer to home. We talked a little bit about it and she said that her Mum had dropped her down here to say goodbye to people. I looked at the sort of people she was saying goodbye to and my heart sank. I replied saying that I’d looked for her when the class came in that morning and then I saw on the roll that she’d left.
“I’ll miss you, ” she said and then she hugged me. (Took me a little by surprise.)
I said something to her about always valuing herself…. to not let herself get into situations where the consequences would be hard to escape from. Meanwhile her “friends” were lighting up and ambling over to sit in the bus shelter to have their smokes in peace.
‘Always look after yourself, T,” I said. “You’re lovely and you deserve the best, so never let anyone sell you short.” Or something like that…. I’m not sure exactly what I said. My heart bled for her. She’s such a sweet girl but the area she’s moving to might put her at risk, as does her family situation and the people that she’s obviously starting to gravitate to. I desperately wanted to say something that would stay with her and maybe keep her from harm, but who knows what are the right things to say? I’m only her English teacher, after all, and she was only in my class for a term.
She said she’d be fine and she hugged me again and then she went off to join the boys in the bus shelter and I went to post my letters. I have a creepy sort of feeling that I’ll always have T in the back of my mind…. hoping and wondering how she’s doing. There are some kids you don’t forget. It’s odd that I ran into two of them on the same day.