It's funny. Whenever I see former students out in public and they get a little shy - I get it, I am a teacher and I am supposed to live at school, why would they see me at the store? - I tease them and tell them, "Don't go and get shy on me! Don't act like we didn't spend 174 days together!" And they smile and giggle and hopefully I get a hug or a "Hi Mrs. Wittmus" out of it - maybe I'll get a quick run-down on what's going on in their lives now that they have moved on from my class.
I say 174 because that was the number of student school days in my district's calendar year. I think it has gone up, but for the longest time, it was 174 days.
I lost a student this past June. I lost him to cancer. I've had hundreds of children enter my classroom on that first day and leave the 174th day hopefully a year wiser, stronger, more compassionate - because that's how they leave me at the end of those 174 days. Each and every child has left some sort of indelible mark on my soul, some marks are stronger than others, but every mark, I believe, has made me a better teacher, a better human.
Trevor's mark was more impressionable than most. He was the "total package," that dream student teachers pray to have in class. He was gifted academically and emotionally. He was happy, witty, caring, and helpful. His desk was even clean! He made it a personal mission that no student with special needs be left out at recess or anything that involved teaming up with others. He brought forth amazing entertainment and humor as the Master of Ceremonies at the annual school talent show, and he took this humor and talent with him into the drama setting in middle and high school.
I ran into him a few years later after he had left my elementary school. It was at the local ball fields and my crazy toddler daughter had an agenda of her own, making it impossible to enjoy my oldest son's practice. Out of nowhere, Trevor bounded up, gave me a hug-saying he was helping out at the concession stand and was taking a break-and would I like for him to take my daughter over to the playground so I could watch my son? That's just the tiniest bit of who he was - taking a break to give me a break - and he was thrilled to do it!
Throughout his treatments, he remained positive. He focused his energy on helping others, in true Trevor style. Throughout his treatments and suffering, he collected teddy bears to give to children with cancer at the hospital to give them comfort throughout their treatments - again, thinking of others over himself - the pure essence of this child.
To the average student, that is FOREVER. To me, it was a blink and a memory. I don't know why he had to get cancer. I don't know why he had to lose his battle, but I am a firm believer that all things happen for a reason. I can't imagine who I would be without his presence and role in my life. Even more, I can't imagine how much dimmer so many lives would be had he not touched them with his positive energy and humor.
Many people say that the world is a sadder and darker place because of the passing of amazing people like Trevor. I disagree. It is a lot brighter because he was here, he was himself, and he taught so many.
It is already day 13 of this new school year and I must get back to the important task of teaching and influencing tomorrow's youth, but more importantly, I must learn from them to be better as a whole. It's reciprocal.
I am forever grateful to be a teacher. I am forever grateful to have had Trevor in my life.
I am a former gifted child/student and currently a gifted adult and Gifted Education Specialist in the best middle school in the world!