The perfect lesson turned upside down

Today I had the perfect lesson planned for my students. I was confident that I would teach them a great many things. They will hang on my every word and be awestruck by my knowledge and my delivery. The lesson plan was brilliant. We would play the role of detective in order to solve the mystery of the Great Depression. This lesson is a sure bet. Or was it?

Like many lessons before it and most assuredly many lessons to come, I was the pupil and not the instructor. Like so many times, these scrappy, gritty, inner city kids taught me a lesson in life. They schooled me again.

My “bell ringer” was simple and straightforward enough and I really didn’t think we would spend any time on it to speak of because of the mind-blowing, earth shattering, lesson of the year that was to come. The bell-ringer is where the lesson began and ended for me. The question posed to each student was as follows: “Think back to a significant day in your life. It needs to be a day that you will never forget. Now answer these prompts – 1) Who or what caused it, 2) Why is it important to remember it today?” A good lead in I figured. I might get some tales of the day my pet died or the day I started at a new school or something of that variety. Then a girl raised her hand and wanted to share. “Wow,” I thought, “I didn’t even think she went here anymore, I thought they told me she was already enrolled in alternative school.” So the girl that I thought I would probably never see again precedes to tell me about her significant day.

“When my mom got out of prison. She was in there a long time.”


The class went silent and stared – not at her – but at me. They wanted to know how I was going to handle that shit! Well after my shock dissipated, I think I handled as well as I could have and tried to be very appreciative of her willingness to share. Needless to say no one shared after that whopper and I don’t blame them. We moved on and I tried to get them excited about solving a mystery that happened 70 years ago.

I could not get the image out of my head of a little girl being separated from her mother and not understanding why. I also could not help but think of my little girls and the confusion they face on a daily basis. Why is Daddy not living with us anymore? Why can’t we see him? Why can’t we play with him? Why can’t we hug him?

I also felt convicted asking such a question to kids who have experienced more trauma then 75% of kids their age. I felt respect for the student who bravely told her story in front of me and her peers. Could I have done that? Could I do it now?

The answer to my own question is sobering and humbling. It would have to go like this: “The most significant day of my life was when my wife told me that I could no longer be her husband. It was that day I realized I had lost my family.” Who caused it? “I did.” Why is it important to remember? “It reminds me why I need to get better.”

If I lose myself, I lose it all.



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