3rd Grade. That's when I knew what I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. You're probably sitting there thinking " 3rd grade?? No 8 year old knows what they want to be when they grow up." Hard to believe I know but it was either a teacher or a professional swimmer. I wanted to be the teacher who kids could count on, be there for the kids who hate exercise and turn it into something fun, help students get through hard times, or just be someone who could provide a safe environment for them to come in, try something new maybe fail and get up and keep going. The main story I want to share is about how one student helped me become a better teacher. My first year of teaching, I took on a lot. I was teaching 5th-8th graders. I was the only PE teacher and I was in a low income, title 1 school. My students were mostly Hispanic. I was in for a hard year I thought. I took the challenge in front of me and stood up to the plate. I got this. I got to know my students quickly. I saw them every day, first I saw 7th graders, then 8th grade, then 7th grade then my 5th and 6th graders. By the end of the day I was exhausted. I bonded with my 8th graders quickly, the could tell I don't mess around and if they do what is asked we were golden. One student, Araya, trusted me very quickly. She looked up to me, asked for advice, if she was having a bad day she would come down and chat with me and figure it out. One day she came to school with her hand wrapped up. I asked her what happen and she said she got so pissed she punched a wall and sprayed her hand. I let her know if she needed to talk I was there. She told me about a few students who had been bullying her she asked if she could come down to the gym during lunch to avoid the. For a few days, I of course said not a problem. Things seemed to be getting better I would check in and things were getting better. Or so I thought. Maybe a month later we were in class, kids were playing speedball I was talking to some of my girls, Araya included, and I saw cut into her leg "help." I didn't call her out simply waited to talk to her after class. After talking to her I reached out to my school counselor for help. We talked to Araya and her family and continued to provide support for her. Around November she started being involved in a couple fights and altercations. I continued to provide a safe haven for her and she continued to reach out for my help. Just after thanksgiving break our principal inform us the school will be closing at the end of the year due to continued bad test scores. In shock, I would have to find a new job. That Friday, standing in the hall saying goodbye to students for the weekend, I saw Araya, she looks at me smiling and says, "Bye Ms. Smith I hope you have a great weekend!" I say " You too Araya I will see you in Monday." She smiles, waves, and that was the last time I saw her. Monday morning our principal calls a meeting before school, which never happens, and tells us "Araya tried to commit suicide over the weekend by hanging herself. She's at children's hospital in the ICU and it doesn't look good." I stood there in shock. I couldn't move and all I thought was I failed her. This can't be real. I failed to make her feel safe. I failed to make her see she was amazing. I failed to stop the bullies. I failed to show her she was loved. I failed her friends. I failed her family. I failed her. I failed. She died that Thursday. This was by far one of the hardest things that has happened to me. I had to put on a brave face and be there for the rest of my students. From that moment I vowed that one of my students would ever feel this way again. I would put my heart and soul into every student that crossed my path. I wasn't going to fail again. There are days where I feel like giving up and failing but then I think of her. Araya is with me everyday. No matter how many times I get cussed at, called names, been put down by students they are never going to feel like they are nothing with me. I was meant to do one thing on this earth and that is to teach. Each student I see each year fills my heart and I am responsible for them. 623 have crossed my path over the past 4 years and each one has a place in my heart. I don't care if they are black, brown, white, blue, purple, gay, straight, lesbian, bi, trans, girl, boy, them, Jewish, Mormon, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, whatever. I have one job. Protect my kids, show them they matter and continue to encourage them to be who they are.
Story By: JJ Gasner