Monday, November 16, 2009

In a weird place

One of our teachers died last week.

She was only 45 and died of a heart attack, or so I was told.  She taught English and did the Journalism and Yearbook classes.  When I first heard about it from a colleague on Veteran's Day I was stunned.  I had just been in her classroom the week before helping kids edit the newspaper with election returns data, and now the permanence of the whole thing is kinda hitting me.  It’s not like I was close to Tonya Sparkes, we didn’t do a whole lot of speaking while I was teaching at Ukiah.  Our rooms were in different buildings and our lives pretty much revolved around students, which means we were always busy.  But every conversation I had with her was a pleasant one, and her loss just seems so, I don’t know, frightening and sad.

It was my first real encounter with grief at the school.  We’ve had some students and ex-students die in the past, and that has caused a little turbulence, but this teacher was a former Ukiah graduate and a very beloved member of the staff.  The impacts were far greater.  We had an early faculty meeting to discuss the crisis situation on campus and were told that grief counseling was available.  Teaching in that kind of setting is odd.  You know that the feelings going around are not going to be good, yet I also felt like some students were going to be wanting normality to continue to get their mind off things, and yet others wouldn’t even be involved.  Remember, a school of 1,600 students, and not all were involved with Ms. Sparkes.  So what’s a teacher to do?

Well, I gave a little speech, tried to talk about my experience with the deceased, and then offered time for reflection.  No one took it, so we did a light version of the lesson and all proceeded ok.  It was odd.  The rest of the day seemed right in line.  Well, kids are resilient that way. 

I cancelled basketball practice and I’m going to her memorial service on Saturday.  While I didn’t know her personally, I feel like the teacher family at the high school lost a good soul, someone who was a pretty danm good professional educator.  And I have no problem honoring the memory of someone whose legacy will revolve around giving up their life to help kids. 

No problem at all.

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