Love Letter to My Dead Student

A Chicago teacher mourns a slain student, knowing that he won’t be the last…

By Ann Mastrofsky
I was in my classroom when someone opened the door, stuck in his head and mooed. I opened the door and looked around the corner. As I expected, it was J., one of my favorite, most charismatic, and most intractable students, who typically greeted me in this manner. He very rarely attended class and when he did, he spent most of his time socializing. But he beamed with pride when you complimented his efforts. He appreciated your kindness and respected you in return. He did the best he could, and sometimes his best was outstanding; he earned the highest grade on my semester final.

I greeted him and he smiled warmly, an impish flash in his eyes. He and I had bonded early; he liked his middle aged, white female teachers, teachers like me, the best.  A huge youth, he towered over me and my neck hurt looking up at his broad face and dyed dreads.

I asked him what was up and he shrugged, smiling shyly. I told him to pull up his pants and take off his hat, both of which he did. I asked him if I’d see him in class later and he told me that I would.  A few of his friends approached and I ducked back into my room, allowing him the privacy that adolescents and teachers both require. I knew only a very little about J’s life outside of the classroom, but I knew enough to know that my ignorance was for the best.

As I expected, he never showed up in class that afternoon.

And now, he is dead at 17, shot to death by unknown assailants.

Continue reading →