Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Worst News a Teacher Can Ever Hear

No, it's not that one of your courses was cancelled, or that you made a mistake during the lecture which caused everyone to fail the exam, or even that your favorite student has dropped out and decided to study philosophy instead.

The worst news a teacher can ever hear is that one of their students has been killed and sadly I've just heard that news.

The first class I ever taught was a physics class for the Humboldt County chapter of Upward Bound. It was the summer of 2011 and I was getting ready to pack my bags and head down to the Bay Area to finish my undergrad at UC Berkeley. Before I left I wanted to give something back to a community I knew I would never live in again and I chose Upward Bound because it has the noble goal of empowering disenfranchised and minority youth to receive educations and help their communities. As a poor kid myself, who left high school early and began my college career at a community college, I empathized with the kids who were in this program and decided I would offer them the physics class I wish I had in high school. For five weeks we talked about everything from Newtonian mechanics and falling bodies to quantum weirdness and the hunt for elementary particles, and I was seriously impressed with how these kids--poor Whites and Native Americans who never had the benefits of good high school classes--took to the material. I remember the summer of 2011 far more vividly than a lot of my time in Humboldt, and I think I'm safe in saying it was one of the most fulfilling things I've done so far.

All these memories have flooded back to me in a bitter sweet way as I learned one of my favorite students was killed in a car accident back in September. She wasn't always the one with the answer, but she always had a smile, a good attitude, and never once complained or whined about me or the course. After I finished teaching she 'Friended' me on Facebook and I had the opportunity of following her accomplishments. She graduated high school against all odds and even began attending the community college I started at. I desperately hoped to one day see a status that she had accepted a scholarship to attend UC Berkeley and telling her of all the things she could do there. Now the only updates I will ever see are condolences and friends saying "we miss you."

To say I'm tremendously sad, upset, and in grief is an understatement. I never expected to see news this sad so few years after I taught that course and I'm at somewhat of a loss for words. The only thing I can think to say is the Hoopa Nation has lost one of its finest young women and my once pristine memories of the wonderful summer of 2011 are now tinged with a sadness I can never remove.

My thoughts are with her family and her friends.

I'm sorry for the personal post, but the this sad and unexpected news really affected me. More Rocket Science to come soon!

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