being a teacher, being me

To the Angry 4th Grader Who Grew Up

There are those students that settle in our hearts through smiles and eagerness.  Through always completed work, a willingness to share, and never missing a beat.  We easily laugh with them and caring about them is natural.  Then there are those kids that march into our hearts.  Fists closed in anger, doors slammed in their wakes, bolts of lighting seeping from their eyes.  Our rational minds put up a fight with those and yet seemingly while we fought their anger with every bit of kindness we had in us, they carved out the largest bits of us.  While we tried every thing we had, they walked right in and took residence in our souls, as if they were always meant to be there.  And when we say goodbye, it seems like they take that piece of us with them and we wonder, and we hope, and we worry.  Oh we worry.  Even though they are no longer ours, they really still are.

8 years ago I taught an angry 4th grader.  A child that stomped his way into my heart and stayed there through shouts, vented frustrations, and yet an achingly quiet plea for more kindness, more caring, more understanding emanating from his very core.  As we said goodbye at the end of our year, I did not realize just how much of a piece of me he took with him.  And his absence from our school after summer is something I will never forget.

I worried about him then and I worry about him now.

We love these kids that we teach even when we shouldn’t.  We call them ours, even when they are not.  Even when it may seem strange to others that we lie awake worrying about something we have absolutely no control over.  We try our very best to make the time we have worthwhile.  To make it somehow better well knowing that we will never be able to fight the beasts that swallow some of our students outside of school.  I am not a savior, I probably never will be, but I can care, and I can try, and I can make my slice of their world not as hurtful, not as harmful.    Even when it seems in vain.

So to the angry 4th grader who is now an angry junior.  Whose life was just dealt another blow today.  Whose tragedy seems to play out in the headlines rather than become a thing of the past.  I didn’t forget about you.  I bet I am not the only one.  Us teachers are strange like that.  I know that I cannot make your life better, I know that I cannot make the wrong things right.  I can only care, I can only be, whether you need me or not.  So know that.  Know that when you cried on the last day of school I cried too.  And I cried the day I heard you weren’t coming back.  Life may seem like it is worth being angry over but don’t let your anger drown you.  You can change the world, but not if you don’t feel like the world is worth changing.  I saw something in you those many years ago, I hope you see the same now.  You are worth fighting for.  You are worth caring for.  Don’t let the world make you believe otherwise.


7 thoughts on “To the Angry 4th Grader Who Grew Up”

  1. Pernille, The fourth grader I taught, like the one you mentioned, died in November after being hit by a car. A day hasn’t gone by that I don’t think about him and the hope and dreams I wished for him. I was sure he’d figure out how to reconcile his anger and his passion for life, and I think he was getting there. The words you wrote about students taking a piece of us is so true. “I did not realize just how much of a piece of me he took with him. … I will never forget.” THANK YOU.

  2. Hi Pernille, I have been reading your posts for many months, but have not had the courage to reply. THIS piece resonated so loudly for me that I had to say thank you for helping me remember the students who have “stomped into my heart.” Your writing rings so true, day after day. Thank you so very much.

  3. This was so beautifully worded, and it captures how I feel about many former students. I don’t think that that the public realizes just how deeply we are invested in students. Teaching is in our souls.

  4. Thank you. You so eloquently express the deep heartache we teachers feel with the most difficult of students who wriggle into the niches of our heart and truly never leave. You have expressed so well the angst I feel every year as my students leave and move to high school. In my heart I know the battles the challenging students face and my fervent hope that they will choose the right pathways and meet teachers who will see the good hidden under the bluster and anger. Thank you x

  5. Thank you for this heart warming account. I too was angry 4th grader, and when I entered 6th grade I encountered a Pernille of my own. She changed my life forever. I’ve spent 45 years striving to pay it forward as she did each and every day.

  6. Hi Pernille, as others have stated, this was a very well written and touching piece. I know the feeling you describe, and I have worried about ‘my’ kids too. I do often wonder where they are and what they’re up to now. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Looking forward to more!

  7. I connected with this post. Teaching in a community consumed by poverty I have worked with a lot of angry kids. Every year I struggle to reach them. My little ones are only 2nd graders and many of them are already angry and defiant and when I look at them I see a child who is hurting. I wanted to share with you a post I wrote about myself and one of my little ones this year

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