A Student I Once Knew

a student I once knew

by: Shane Phipps

I could feel him sizing me up

I was just trying to do my job

but I could sense that he wasn’t going to let me

not today

I trudged ahead

but I could hear mumbled whispers

coming from a darkness I could never know

I couldn’t make out the words

but I was receiving the message

and it chilled me

like the gooseflesh you get right before lightning strikes

out of the corner of my eye

I would catch glimpses of him getting agitated




rocking back and forth

back and forth

he looked like a young man

who was just about to give in to the ghosts 

of the father he found with a needle sticking out of his arm

of the mother rotting in a prison cell

of everyone who ever failed him

given him hope 

and pulled it away

he looked like a young man

fully prepared 

to go down with the ship

I couldn’t suppress a nagging, unspeakable thought:

this must be what Klebold and Harris looked like

my feeble attempt to calm him

only served as a trigger

which sparked the explosion 

and then I felt the buckshot rage pellets

piercing my skin

like hot rivets of neglect

I looked in his eyes and I saw Armageddon

a frightened boy emerging from smoldering rubble

of loveless homes

of broken promises

of shattered dreams

I called for help 

gathered the others

and fled to the safe room

from there I heard the tortured screams

I saw the violent battle

the gnashing teeth

the blood-stained dress shirt

the feral desperation of a cat being lowered into a bathtub

just let him go

we’ll get him later

I heard

I saw him running down the corridor

free as a vulture

a trail of clothes in his wake

then, as quickly as it began

it was over

and I never saw him again

I wrote that poem based upon a real story that happened in my classroom a few years ago. Childhood trauma is a very real thing. Every student we have is fighting a battle we can’t see. We’d do well to remember that when dealing with our students. I learned a lesson that day that will stick with me forever.

And when I hear groups like Purple for Parents calling for the end of Social and Emotional Learning programs, I always think about that student and how much he might have benefitted from SEL, but we didn’t offer it then.

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