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Dear New Orleans

June 28, 2012
sunny dawn summers new orleans teacher

My kids tell me we don’t say good-bye here because good-bye means forever. We just say so long.

I woke up at 5:37 a.m. to a nightmare. I was in my classroom laughing and joking with a bunch of kids. This one student, an 18 year old kid who is as sweet as he is behind in school, mimes holding a gun to my head and pulling the trigger. In my dream I know it’s not real, he’s not holding a gun, just pretending like it. I shout his name (as if shouting any student’s name will ever get them to stop doing something you don’t like…) and start to run away and he follows me, shooting me with his hand over and over. This is when I wake up.

I see the sun has already lit the sky, but I never get up this early. I take the morning to follow my thoughts, sitting up, writing this.

This is not the first nightmare I’ve had. Most of the time I go to school without being prepared which is the worst thing you could do as a teacher. But never have I dreamed about one of my kids hurting me. Especially this one student. Yes, I know he carries a gun and belongs to a gang, but I’ve only ever loved him. When I step back and watch my mind process this dream, I say to myself, “Loving them is not enough.” I have told myself over and over this year that if I just love them everything will be ok. Let me tell you, it’s our last day of school and I am so empty of love, I have given so much to them, I have squeezed the last drop, and it’s not enough. As much as I want it to be, these children of mine need so much more. Love is a good starting place.

They need role models, 2 parents who are both around and provide positive environments and academic guidance. They need a safe, clean place to live. They need nutritious food. They need after school jobs, spending money, savings accounts, and the basic math skills to be able to use money wisely. They need someone other than me to confront them about their daily weed habit. They need mediation skills and conflict resolution skills and communication skills, and a high enough reading level to pass a driver’s test. They have none of these things, or maybe one, on a good day.

It’s the last day of school today. And Saturday morning I will be getting in my car and driving out of the city for a good while. I struggle to reconcile leaving New Orleans. I love it so much. This is the first place I’ve ever felt at home. Sort of like a favorite book coming to an end, reading the last word is both bitter and sweet. There is a kind of resolution, and end point, but somehow we want good things to go on and on. Perhaps it’s best to leave while I am still thirsty for more. And because I am leaving it for a man I love more than New Orleans, I can justify the exodus.

More than just the city, I struggle leaving my children behind. They are taking it personally that I’m leaving. I get it. They’ve been let down and left over and over. And for this group of kids specifically, because they are so far behind, I may be the first teacher to love them. What teacher loves the worst kid in their class? The kid who needs the love the most? I have a school full of the worst kid in class. I am a mama to some of them whose mamas have disappeared, passed away or are in jail. I am a friend to a 17-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and not a single friend or ever a morning hug if it weren’t for me. I am a safe ride home in the rain or the person who gets a late night text, “I think I’m pregnant.” I never intended to teach just one year here. I feel guilty that I should stay and help the cause. I’m so egotistical that I have decided they won’t exist when I’m gone, or that somehow they’ll just magically be ok. I worry.

Maybe I’ve been a fool to believe that I am safe with my kids, that they wouldn’t hurt me, that the love I give them is big enough to protect us all. Maybe my egocentric self believes that I have been a victim (working weekends, sleepless nights, daily diarrhea, sore shoulders), when in reality these kids are the victims of their families and the city, the ones who have been hurt, scarred, abandoned, abused, neglected, and enabled. I am just a little white girl from Kansas. I can pack up and leave, but these kids cannot. Sometimes I bear guilt for my own freedoms.

It’s now half past 6 and I can sneak in another 20 minutes of snoozing before going to school. This reconcile is going to take days, weeks, months, years. I shouldn’t be in a hurry, except to return to New Orleans to fight the good fight. Dear New Orleans, I’ll be back.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. vasy permalink
    June 28, 2012 8:08 am

    We’ll be waiting.

  2. June 28, 2012 8:55 am

    Ah New Orleans, it is a complicated place to love. I come from a family of teachers; keep fighting the good fight, there are children everywhere that need good educators!

  3. Claudia permalink
    June 28, 2012 11:26 am

    So sorry to hear you are leaving. You made a difference with these kids, and have profoundly impacted their lives, which is something. Your blog also was a great source of support to me this past school year, when I was dealing with some difficult situations with my own at-risk students. It was comforting to see someone else out there who was grappling with the same issues (even though my school is a country club in comparison!). Wherever you go, you should continue to teach. You have a gift, and add much to the world with it. Best of luck!

  4. June 28, 2012 1:51 pm

    oooh, i thought you were just going on a vacation, not moving away! shoot, i wanted to visit you there! new orleans will having a missing piece with you gone. kc does too. you do that to places!
    i know you have inspired a lot of people, both in and out of the classroom and you will continue to do so wherever you go.
    does your school have yearbooks? I feel like i’m signing the back of your yearbook: “stay short and sweet” “k.i.t” “have a rad summer”
    are you going to keep your blog? “new to the EC” 🙂
    miss you girl! thanks for all you do! xo

  5. Aunt Peggy permalink
    June 30, 2012 10:48 am

    Love you – you are so much more than a little white girl from Kansas – you are a gift to those children and to all of us who imagine doing good things!

  6. Mari permalink
    July 2, 2012 12:47 am

    A long time lurker here. Thank you so much for the posts that gave voice toexactly what a teacher in The RSD Is up against. Reading between the lines of your posts, it seems as though You did the absolute best you could – with grace and compassion. Be proud of the work you did.
    God bless you and your new life with your loved one.

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