Set up

Seventh Graders will often use the wrong facial expression / voice inflection / emotion when expressing themselves.  When it seems that they should sound happy or sad, they do not.  Or, perhaps, they should sound worried or concerned but they are expressionless.  This is just something I have noticed while teaching.  Please consider the following:

Last year, one of my students asked if they could talk to the class briefly about a missing family member (we’ll say a cousin, to ensure some ambiguity) and show a flier.  Concerned, I agreed to a brief announcement before we started class.  This student quiet by nature, somberly said that a cousin was missing, when they were last seen and held up the flier.  Everyone in the class was interested and had what seemed to be the accepted nonchalance that accompanies 7th grade transitions.  I took the flier, asked some follow up questions (gone missing before? etc.) and assumed the worst.  That’s just me.

A couple of weeks pass, we are well into our studies on Cells and just before I pass out the assignment, Student announces in a bright cheery voice, “Hey!  They found my cousin!”  Smiles all around!  Sounds of relief trickle through the room.  “Wonderful,” I say, smiling back and making full eye contact to make sure I am understanding correctly, “And they’re all right?”  “Oh, no.  She’s dead.”  My face falls, the entire class is struck dumb.  Shoulders sagging, I have no idea what to say.  I try to apologize for their loss, that sort of thing and ask if Student’s family is all right, if Student needs to go talk to someone.  Trying to stop my spinning mind, trying to seize what would be the appropriate response to such news but I am too baffled.  Smiles?  No, dead?  Found them under something?  Sharing loudly with the entire class.  God!  Who does that?

One of the other students pipes up and says something about “saying like that” and repeating the entire conversation, noting the smiles not matching the news and I can tell Student is feeling embarrassed.  I quiet the class down, say one more condolence and move to pass out the rest of the assignment.

Student was probably just happy to tell me that they weren’t looking anymore.  That they had an answer and the what ifs were no longer prodding.  The bad news part was just what it was, the answer and bad news.  When you’re 12, it seems to me at least, that loss is an remote idea that someone else has to deal with, even in this case, the “cousin” ended up not being very close to them anyway.  Compartmentalizing, we all do it.  It’s for self preservation.  When you’re 12, you shouldn’t have to deal with such heartache.   But that’s just me.


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