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After nearly three decades of teaching grade and middle school, I recently made a bold leap to high school. It was not an easy transition. For example, my silly sarcasm—such as replying “I don’t know. I wasn’t listening to me, either” —that had made my 4th graders laugh, only infuriated my new sophomores. Worse was the sheer number of students I suddenly faced daily, a whopping hundred and seventy-five this year. I still struggle just to learn their names. And I’m usually so overwhelmed with work that I don’t stop for lunch.

Worst of all has been acquiring the essential skill of triage; that is, recognizing which of my students I simply cannot help.

Believe me: that sounds unbearably callous even—no, especially to me. However, all of my crowded classes harbor several students who seem…just…lost. They’re failing nearly every subject, which is no surprise given their habitual truancy and defiance.

I posted a reminder next to my desk that reads “The children who need the most love ask for it in the most unloving of ways.” I strive to tell them with my words and demeanor that I care for them, worry about them, would do anything for them. But, awful truth be told, I suppress relief when they cut class, and I’m spared their apparent apathy and frequent disruptions.

Most of these students are clinically depressed. And I know that, although their bodies so often tower over mine, they’re still just kids; lost kids whose back-stories of poverty, homelessness, violence and neglect depress me, too.


They’re hardly exceptional, with the United States ranking 34th out of 35 industrialized nations in terms of childhood well-being. The New Common Core Standards won’t save them. And, if I am to survive teaching high school, I must somehow learn to accept that I probably won’t either.

Is that horrible? Well, what would you do? What will you do now?

With a Perspective, I’m David Ellison.

David Ellison eaches history and Spanish in Union City.