Each Minute Counts
Copyright 2022 by Lori Stryker
Photo by Stas Knop at Pexels.
you’re a high school teacher, you are governed by the clock.
Each minute counts. These minutes are units of time to visit the
bathroom or grab those final photocopies before scurrying to your
assigned classroom. One of the things I savored most when I retired
was that I didn’t need to wake up to an annoying alarm, or have
my day ruled by the watch perennially on my left wrist. I still wear
that watch, but only because it’s my habit after so many years.
I never use my alarm.
lifelong dream career for me, as I was enticed by the echoing sound
of the chalk on the board, and the squeak of the markers on the chart
paper when I was a child sitting on the carpet, looking with adoring
eyes at my own teachers. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Miller, a
beautiful Marilyn Monroe look alike, at least to my eight year old
eyes. I was going to be just like her when I grew up.
story begins, or rather ends, on a typical day for me at a
neighborhood high school that I was working at. It was a regular
school, in a nice neighborhood, filled with students from exotic
parts of the world, and plenty from right here at home. Good kids,
just trying to survive high school and maybe have a good time in the
this day, I was
inclined to not care so much about the minutes. I had a job promotion
and this was my last day as a classroom teacher. Habits die hard,
though, and I glanced at my watch. Five minutes until I had to be at
the front of room 220, asking for the students’ attention to
begin the lesson. At that moment, one of my students entered the
office I shared with four other teachers, and asked to speak to me in
private. This is an awkward situation that teachers face all the
time: the conflict between a student's need for privacy versus my
need as a professional to protect myself against accusations of
misconduct. Something in his face told me, however, that this was
serious. Over time, I learned to read human expressions. Some
expressions betrayed guilt; some anger. Sometimes, it was this:
emotional pain. The face looks different. The muscles tend downward,
and the face has a grayish tone… but it’s the eyes that
reveal it. Pain, confusion, hopelessness.
one else was in the office. I sat on one side of my desk and he on
going on?” I asked with a look of concern.
tears streamed down his face. I handed him a bunch of tissues.
knew what I was supposed to do. Call the main office and ask for an
administrator or teacher on call to open my classroom and let the
students in until I can get there. But in that moment, it was just
him, me, and whatever was moving this young man to tears. I didn’t
feel I could disrupt the moment.
told me that he was at the end of his rope. That he did not want to
go on…the pressure was too great. Although he didn’t say
it, I knew what he meant. This is a critical moment, and one that has
to be handled with care. In my teaching career, I have had this
moment, thankfully, only a couple of times.
asked him if I could direct him to a guidance counselor. He said no.
I told him he should talk to his parents. He said no. Only me. Okay.
pressure to succeed and get into university was killing him. He was
trying his best, but it never seemed to satisfy his parents, who came
here from another country to have a better life. I understood
completely, being the child of immigrants myself. He couldn’t
take it anymore and was thinking about ending it.
talked about strategies to cope with the pressure, and to put things
into perspective. That he didn't need a 99% average to get into
university. Most were happy to accept him with a lower average. Life
is long, and he had a great life to live…he just needed to
hang on until graduation and let things work themselves out. That
university was not the only way to live a successful life. That I
understood, because I was under the same pressure once upon a
time…and that often parents don’t see their impact
because they are just human too.
are you? You’re supposed to be in class.” an irritated
someone for me- I will be there in about fifteen minutes.” I
said and hung up.
talked more, the student and I. He wiped his tears and said he felt
better. I sent him off with a final request to please talk to his
parents, even though he perceived them to be the source of his angst.
Having my own teenagers, I pleaded with him to talk to them and that
they loved him more than anyone in the world. He thanked me and I
told him I was proud of him for seeking help in his moment of
distress. I escorted him out of the office. I don’t know where
he went, but it was supposed to be his next class once he felt ready.
practically ran to the classroom and started my lesson. I ignored the
questioning look of the Principal as he left the room and continued
with my class.
was my last day as a classroom teacher. I don’t know what
happened to the student. I hope he felt better, and faced what was
ahead with courage and support from other caring adults. A school
board is a small community, so I think I would have heard if
something terrible had happened.
my office that day, with my things in a box and heading for the
parking lot, I felt like I had just abandoned my best friend. That
feeling filled everything…even the satisfaction I had
previously felt at being able to “move up”, something
that is not easy to do in the field of education. Suddenly, as I sat
in my car to go home, I was not as happy to leave this life, ruled by
high school teacher. Currently teaches English online for a prep
academy. Lives in a small town in British Columbia, Canada.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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