Monday, September 29, 2008

Two deaths

A popular math teacher at my school died last week.

He told his classes that day that he wasn't feeling good, so if they needed help with the assignment, they should come to him. Then he had a massive heart attack in front of his third period class. Students responded heroically, calling 911, getting other teachers and administrators in, tending to him. There happened to be an ambulance nearby, so response time was three minutes. Principals got on the PA and put us in modified lockdown (nobody leaves to the bathroom, but keep teaching), and held kids two minutes late at the end of class to keep halls and parking lot clear. And in spite of all of that, my colleague died. 49 years old.

I barely knew him, but students were devastated, especially the football team (he was an assistant coach). We helped each other out for a few days. Since I didn't know the man, I was mostly keeping an eye on students. Those who knew him were sad. Those in his third period were traumatized.

Thanks, man for your work. Your tribute is in the genuine grief I saw in kid after kid.

Shockingly, today the tables turned.

When I checked my email at lunch, I was shocked to learn that a former assistant principal of mine at the old place had died.

44 years old. Had an aneurysm while jogging.

I found a principal, told her the situation, and said I needed a half an hour off. She got coverage. I went to my car (privacy is hard to come by in a high school), called my wife, and cried.

Jay was a tremendous guy. We arrived at my former school together--he as band director, me as student teacher. He went on and got his administrative credential while I stayed in the classroom. He was the disciplinarian--the dude who doled out suspensions--but somehow the kids adored him. I don't know how he pulled that off. I sure couldn't.

The man put kids first under all circumstances. If you were a teacher who did anything to embarrass a kid, Jay would absolutely lay into you. I've seen him absolutely go off on teachers, but only if they've gone after a kid. I've seen him go to bat for kids who needed it. I've seen him cry after a troubled kid almost nobody knew passed from a drug overdose three years back. And I've seen him joke around with kids, faculty, and anybody else. As my teaching mentor told me, the kids are sacred and the classroom is sacred, but everything else you can make fun of. Jay got that.

Healthy as a horse, running a junior high now, adored by kids and his staff. He leaves behind his partner of 18 years. He's the second person who attended my wedding to pass away. The world, and the educational world, is a less just place today.

44 years old. I'm 38.

We'll all miss you, Jay. Kids are worse off without you, but I'll do what I can to remedy your loss.


Paula said...

I'm sorry TRP. This is tough.

Anonymous said...

You'll understand how I found this post. One of my colleagues died this morning, after a long illness (MND, so it's not unexpected, and in many ways is a relief): but here I am, at home now, drunk, surfing for - some fellow feeling - not knowing how or what I feel - what I (drunkenly, sadly, obviously not coping with this) would say is - maybe our obligation is - to live: to feel our luck; to care for those we love more carefully, with quiet deeds as well as words; to care for the living as we would care if we knew that they might be gone tomorrow. And also, the fact you posted this ... I'm sorry for the pain you may feel, and I'm glad the Internet is there for starngers to find each other.