Sometimes I’m struck by the number of roles I play as a teacher that have nothing to do with teaching English. Earlier this year I received an email from the mother of a boy in my home room: “Please keep an eye on Cody,” she wrote. “We had to put his dog down last night and he’s very upset.” My heart broke for him, and I felt the tears in my throat, but it was time to open my door to the new day so I grabbed my biggest smile and welcomed in my home room kids.
How am I supposed to ” keep an eye” on Cody when I have 119 other students to teach, keep focused and amused, and in line during one school day? I had five classes to teach, a team meeting, and a period to get ready for the next day – and none of those times were available for grief.
What I really wanted to do was take Cody outside and hang out under a big old tree with him. We could just sit and he could tell me about his dog, how she had been there when he was born, how she slept with him every night, curled up against his back like a warm wall of pure, unmitigated adoration. He would tell me, his adolescent voice finally cracking, that she was always there waiting at the end of the driveway when he came home from school, her tail beating the air and her feet unable to hold the ground. And he would tell me, the tears falling in a torrent to the soft grass, that he didn’t think he could take it without Bear in his life.
Instead, I called his name for attendance and checked to see how he was holding up. He was pale and the circles under his eyes a dark purple, but Bobby, God bless him, was showing Cody something under the desk (Bobby doesn’t know that I know what he likes to draw) and they were both snorting in quiet laughter.
Later, I would take Cody aside and ask how he was doing. I would tell him how terribly sorry I was and I would try, with all my might, not to let tears fill my eyes, but not succeed. And he would say he was doing okay, thanks, avoiding my eyes as he merged into the writhing throng of 7th graders who make weird noises and crash into each other and sometimes even notice when a friend is sad.
I watched him go, part of the whole crazy scene, and my heart eased. Maybe that’s what he needed more than me and the big old tree.