Slice of Life 12:
You go, We go.
Kurt Russell said it to Billy Baldwin in the movie, “Backdraft.” Maybe it was the other way around- either way- it’s the sentiment that’s important. He called it out to him as he supported him, with one arm, hands clenched, grasped tightly as Billy hung overhead a fiery burning pit of debris and scorching flames. As upstretched wisps of smoke surrounded their dangling bodies, they stared sternly, gazes locked on one another, their brotherly loyalty quite literally bonding them as one. You go, We go.
I feel like Kurt Russell every time a student looks at me with tears in their eyes. It happened again today in my 6th grade class. I noticed a head down, buried in his arms on his desk. Fixed and motionless. They were just about to begin the last standardized Math test, so I thought it peculiar, but assumed be was just being dramatic and showing reluctance. After a casual call out, “Hey ya. Come on now. Heads up.” He still didn’t move. Just weird. Was he going to throw up? Not like him.
I make the decision to proceed with instructions for the rest of the class and immediately make my way to him. Man down. Man down.
I knelt beside his desk. His face still buried.
“Hey.” I say in a whisper, “Hey, J. Are you ok?” He murmurs something, head buried. “What’s that? Honey, look up.”
Slowly, he raises his head so that his eyes only glimpse over his forearm. His large, circular eyes, usually auburn toned and bright, are glossy and red, sleek with tears hanging on the brinks.
“I said,” he whispers in a broken voice, “I want to go home.”
This is the moment I channel Kurt Russell. This is the moment, like so many countless, similar experiences before, that I want to say to my student, You go, We go. I cannot help it. When I see one of my students crying, hurting, in pain…I immediately begin to well up myself. When they crack- I crack. When they well- I well. Of course, most often I muster the self-control to suppress tears. Sometimes, I don’t. It’s completely reciprocal. Every. Time. At the very first trace of a tear from one of my, “men,” it’s as if David Copperfield himself surfaces, pitches a quick smoke bomb, Al la ka zam…. And .. Poof! Reciprocal tears. I’m welling up with them. The whole scenario brings on the tears. The fact that they’re hurting. The fact that they are hurting enough to cry. The fact that they are crying in front of me and most likely embarrassed. The fact that they are embarrassed and their mom or dad isn’t here to hug them. I wish I could.
We may not be dangling over a sweltering, searing pit of certain doom, like the McCaffrey brothers in Backdraft, but the pain these kids experience is very real. And I think the truth is, as teachers, we do possess startling potential… to carry a child or to just let them fall.
Now, I may not be as in shape and toned as Kurt Russell was back in ’91 when, “Back Draft,” was filmed. I may not possess his rugged good looks or his sun-streaked mullet, but we do seemingly share, however, the values of dedication, commitment, and reliability. Just as Russell was there for his young cadets, I am here for my students. If my students fail, I fail. If my students succeed, I succeed. Their tears, are my tears. The threat may not be as immediate such as, say… burning alive… but a teacher’s response, level of concern, and support for a student does hold the potential to save a life.