Today I have one fewer students. Jacob has committed suicide.
He had never done well, spoke little, responded rarely and seemed, forever, to be looking darkly into a distant space. Rail thin, sullen, his long black hair would sometimes sway and uncover the circles under his eyes. He would tell me he was ravenous always, that his headaches were constant. He wrote this to me in a note.
On a bit of paper, written in short, matter-of-fact fragments, he told me his home was small, loud, had no space for him to study that did not have a TV blaring, parents yelling. He wrote me he could not see though the pain in his head, spent his time eating, eating, eating.
Grades? How was I to convince him grades were important? In the face of such pain, how could I lie and tell him, more important than his suffering, were his essay scores? While I tried to help him with his work, I had not recorded grades for him in weeks. What would a zero teach him? The value of labour? That failure brings more failure and suffering more suffering?
I shared his note with guidance, asked he be checked into, checked out, checked up on. Spoke with his teachers, his mother. That was a month ago.
Today the news was delivered to me in a note folded into my mailroom box. On a half sheet of paper, a scrawled missive said the administration had decided I was to not count zeros for the last few weeks he was in class. That his final exam would still have to be counted and recorded as a failing grade and he be given an F for the term.
And that is how we said goodbye to Jacob.