He walked into my classroom on the first day of his senior year laughing, and 10 months later, the laughter never stopped. At 6 foot 5 inches, he towered over most of his classmates. And he was big- not fat, big. Everything about him was BIG…his laugh was loud and contagious. His voice was distinct with a slight Hispanic accent and it sort of had a melody. He carried his last word a little longer like he was sad his sentence was ending and he wanted to keep talking as long as he could.
I was immediately concerned about him. I have learned after 10 years of teaching that one should not presume- it is a wait and see situation. First day of school behavior does not reflect who the kid is- it takes time. I wondered if this kid was going to challenge me and want to take over (it wouldn’t happen, I just wondered if he would try.) I wondered if he was intelligent, if he would do his work- Would the big kid be a big pain or not?
I called him “Big Fun.” That is just who he was- BIG FUN. Everyone loved him. He loved them back. I didn’t know his name for about a month into school because “Big Fun” became his name. The kids in class started calling him that and so it was set, Big Fun was ..well, Big Fun! I waited and watched and this wonderful young man was respectful, kind, courteous and turned in all of his work on time. He was a high ‘B’ student. He told me he was okay with English, but it wasn’t his thing. He didn’t put much effort into his writing, but it was always adequate, and he tested well. I encouraged him to go to college (regularly for our ten months together) and he assured me he was “Gooo-ing!”
Every senior had to create a scrapbook as a final project. The scrapbook contained writing, pictures and memorabilia. Big Fun did not enjoy the scrapbook project at all. He lost his smile when I asked him how it was going. One day I asked him and he said he didn’t want to do it but he was working on it. A fellow classmate, of course one of my amazing young ladies in the same class, offered to help him- the smile came back. Remember, Big Fun was a smart guy!!
The last two weeks of school are crazy for seniors and their teachers. The end of an era- steps toward a new beginning. I always cry- overwhelmed with joy for thes kids who have this awareness that their life like a pool, is ready to have them jump in and swim, in whatever direction they choose. Splash, splash, splash. Watch out world here come some more high energy 18 year olds with many not really knowing how to keep their heads above water.
Scrapbooks are due 3 weeks before school is out, but most come in a week late. Big Fun had his in on time as usual. I opened this book and saw a fair reflection of the work he had turned in all year. The writing was complete, but mechanical. On one of the pages he placed a picture of his mother and father. On the next page he wrote about how he missed them and that they had died in a car accident in October two years prior. Nothing else, just that he missed them and to RIP.
Every year I cry.
I taught a young lady one summer who lost her mother and father in a car accident in October. She was angry. She wanted the world to know that just because her mom and dad were dead, she wasn’t going to get pregnant and start taking drugs. She was clear in her direction- she wanted to make sure the lawyers who were watching all her moves knew she had it together, and that her mom and dad had raised a good person. She wowed me, and I did not know until I read his scrapbook that Big Fun was her Big Baby Brother!
I had a student in the same class as Big Fun that was a “poor pity me” kind of guy. He was 19, almost 20 and still in high school. He refused to do a scrapbook because he said he was having a bad week. If he did not do the scrapbook and two other papers, he would fail senior English AGAIN, so I made him a deal and offered to work with him every day after school. He refused the offer, and when he did, I refused to let him in the class the last week. He had to report to another class I secured. He chose failure. He chose to fail an entire year of English for 3 items of work. He was all about the “Poor, pity me.”
Both of these guys sat across from each other, everyday. Big Fun, Poor me…their choice of how they each viewed life defined them.
When Big Fun came to class the day after I had read his scrapbook I met him in the hall and asked him to wait with me there while the others got to their seats. As a teacher, I always add, “No, you are not in trouble, I just wanted to tell you something, all is good!”
I looked up at him and couldn’t help but cry. I said, “I read your scrapbook.I didn’t know you lost your mom and dad. I taught your sister.”
“I know you did,” he said.
“If you ever wonder if your mom and dad are proud of you, don’t, because I know they are. You are a good man. They did a good job- Big Fun, they are proud. I am proud to have had you as my student.”
He hugged me, said thanks and went to his seat. I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes and went to my desk. I looked at him, he was already laughing, and singing some words to his fellow classmates.
Big Fun is going to make a real big splash, and his head is already above the water.