Not a Normal Day

When a young person dies, the next day in school is anything but normal.

Andrew Sawyer died in a car crash last night.  I’ve never met him.

Andrew (not his real name) would have been a junior at Northwood High School this year.  Had he not been on a more difficult educational road, he might have been in one of my American History classes.  Instead, Andrew had a difficult freshmen year.  A host of poor grades convinced him to leave school last year and start attending classes at the local community school.

From the stories my kids are telling me today, he still was struggling to get his life back on track.

Even though I’ve never met him, I’m sad for Andrew today.  It hurts me to see his friends, many of whom are in my classes, hurting right now.  His passing also brings to mind the names of former students who also died too young.  I can’t help thinking about Ryan and Jason, Eric and Skeet, and far too many others.  This is still the worst part of my job.

My heart goes out to my kids today.  It’s tough enough just being a teenager.  They have schoolwork to do.  They have projects, papers, and exams soon.  They are worried about getting into a good college and about how to pay for it when they do.  They worried about who is talking about them and what they might be saying.  They are worried about their relationships: girl/boyfriends, parents, teachers, friends.

Even a normal day is difficult.  For some of my kids, even a normal day is too much and they lose their cool and composure, acting out because of the stress.

Today is definitely not normal.

As the teacher, I slip into the all-too-comfortable role of grief counselor.  We get the chairs into a circle and break out the talking piece.  Even though we’ve made a safe place for sharing, there is very little talking.  Most of my kids just want to get to work.  They want to take a break from their grief and pretend that today is just another normal day.

I understand.  When my first wife died, I felt the same way.  I wanted to throw myself into work.  It was a refuge and a distraction from the grief.

So after a few laps and only a few shares, the talking piece went back into the closet and the room put back to normal, but

Today is definitely not normal.


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  • DeidraGammill

    I’m so sorry. I imagine most (if not all) of us can relate to how you’re feeling today. I’ve lost students to wrecks and to suicide, and it sucks. For me, for other students, for the whole school. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your school family today and for many days to come.

  • CherylSuliteanu

    Life is precious

    Dave, there are no words that can fully convey the heartache at hearing of the loss of a child.  Any child, in any circumstance. 

    My school district has begun significant program and staffing support for students at risk of harming themselves, as last year alone our high schools suffered two suicides, and a middle school attempt. We are trying to prevent future tragedies, and we must focus on that as a positive.

    In a growth mindset, I look at this tragedy as a lesson in the value of every moment.  Every life is precious, and the more we talk about the every day gifts we experience the more our students will learn the significance of “the little things” that make our lives special.

    Framing our discussion of a tragedy such as this in a way that accentuates positive experiences that can help us through these times may be the key to helping each other cope.

    Sending strength and courage for the days to come.

  • AnneJolly

    Student Casualties

    Dave, you are right. Today is not normal.  Today hasn’t been normal for a couple of decades now.

    I taught in middle school for most of my teaching career. Almost every year I had at least one student in a class die by violence or disease, or commit suicide. It’s always an unbelievable shock, and I found myself often wondering how I could have prevented those deaths (the suicides at least) from happening.  

    The other students in the classes carried that same burden – could they have stopped it? Where the violent deaths were concerned, some students wondered if they would be next. Their lives were a mirror of their society in many cases. One girl came to school and took the state test after witnessing her uncle shot to death in his front yard the night before. One male student was living out of a car because he and his family had been kicked out of their home.  

    It’s amazing what happens to many of our students between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. the next day.  It’s absolutely not a “normal” world.  Or are we just now finding out what normal is for many children today?