“Can I ask you a question?”
I could tell from her tone that she wanted to ask me something personal. In any other teaching job, this would be no big deal. Teachers are specifically taught the importance of forming bonds with their students; developing relationships with them is the key to making the most impact on them – not just with their academic growth, but with their self-esteem, safety, physical health, mental health, and interpersonal development as well. In any other teaching job, this student’s effort to reach out to me would be embraced.
In OUR environment, this is not so much the case. Personal questions are avoided, then squashed. Teachers are specifically RE-taught the importance of viewing bonds with their students as a boundary issue; developing relationships with them is the key to being put under investigation. In OUR teaching job, this student’s effort to reach out to me is feared.
“Yeah, you can. If it’s not appropriate to discuss, I’ll let you know.”
“Are you going to die?”
I look at this 16-year-old mess of a girl in front of me, and I have no idea what to say. It’s a legitimate question … and i am torn between being honest with a teenager who has serious (and legitimate!) abandonment issues, and lying to a teenager who has just-as-serious trust issues. She’s staring at me intently, watching my face even before any words emerge from my mouth.
“I don’t know. I’m doing everything i can to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s why i’ve been going to all these medical appointments. The stage of my cancer is kind of scary, but i’m getting a lot of treatment from really great doctors. I can’t make any promises, but I think I’m going to make it through this.”
Her whole body sags with relief. “Good. If i lose one more person in my life, i’m going to go crazy … and i’m already kind of crazy, but that’ll make me REALLY crazy. Like, not coming back crazy.”
As we exchange a quick smile, I decide that my decision to use truth AND lies in my answer was the best approach.