A couple of the teachers have started affectionately referring to this class as “our girls.” It is a very small class, all young women. They lost a pretty high percentage of their classmates in the first couple of terms, so the remaining “girls” have grown pretty close. When they set up to do hands-on work, there are only 3 tables, maximum. No matter what the size of the room, they set up their tables so close together that they are guaranteed to bump into one another at some point. I teased them about this one day, running the length of the empty classroom with my arms outstretched, saying “Look at all this room for awesome body mechanics!” They laughed, and one of them said, “But we’ve lost so many people. We have separation anxiety.” She smiled when she said it, but I saw real loss and fear in her eyes.
A group this small, this closely knit, can be beautiful for teachers to work with. At the end of last term, they all gave presentations about their challenges and experiences with self care. Every one of them had a meaningful insight, more impressive than I ever hoped for. Every one of them said something about being positive, being optimistic, being overwhelmed but excited about their future careers. Our girls were an inspiration, a shining light to look forward to.
Then came this term. My colleague and I had a throw-up-your-hands moment in the faculty lounge. Our girls were missing so many classes. Our girls were not turning in their work, they were failing tests that should have been easy for them. Our girls were expressing doubt about continuing in the program, with only 15 weeks to go before they graduate.
Tomorrow, I have our girls for class. All my preparation for this class has been about getting them back to that optimistic group of students who could handle anything. I see them sinking. There are so few of them, I feel like I should be able to gather them all in my arms and pull them up. I could be that strong. But then I remember this: lifeguards are taught to try every possible method of rescuing a drowning person before they go in the water themselves. This is because a drowning person could push a lifeguard under in their struggle for air.
So I have to think, have I tried every possible method? Is it really time to cast myself into the water in an attempt to save them? I don’t know. I just know, looking at my grade book and attendance sheets, our girls are in trouble. I know, looking at their faces, our girls are overwhelmed, and they have lost the excitement. Somehow, between now and tomorrow, I have to find enough excitement, and enough life preservers for all of us.