It’s time for triage

May. The end of the school year. The sun is finally shining, the flowers are blooming, and daydreams are plentiful.

In other words, for your average high school teacher, hell has been unleashed. 

I like to make war analogies whenever appropriate, and this is no exception. Students are in danger of academic flat-lining, and we’re facing yet another mass casualty situation.

This is when the panicked questions begin.

“Is there any extra credit?” 

“What do you mean that project was due?”

“I was on vacation all last week. What did I miss?” 

“I had strep all last week. Did we do anything?”

“If I get an A on the exam, I’ll pass, right?”

“How can I be failing? I got an A on the last assignment!”

My answers:

No, complete the regular credit.

Yes, the project we’ve been working on for three weeks. The one that I emailed home. The one we have been finalizing for the last two days in the lab.



Do I look like a calculator?

The last assignment was a participation only assignment worth 10 points. It’s like expecting to quench your thirst with a drop of water.

And then there are the seniors.

They’ve been checked out since… oh… Christmas. Some can still manage to do well and show up and care. Others have gone AWOL.

So, it’s triage time.

My classroom has a huge Red Cross on it and now everyone is flooding in to be stitched up in time to finish the year and graduate. Emails flood in from parents and counselors and students asking what they can do to pass. Most of these parents are complete strangers who have never come to open house or conferences or called or emailed the entire year. Most of these students have over 20 absences and haven’t even completed half of the work.

So the divisions starts.

Those who have a solid D and above are off my radar. I call them the walking wounded. They could likely use some help, but they’re going to make it. If I have time, or an an opportunity presents itself, I’ll give them some input and help them out.

Those who are in the high E to low D- range are my target group. I can help most of these kids in the time that I have to help them pass. As long as they don’t pull out the IVs I put in place, they have the best chance of making it. Some will fight me and yank themselves off the ventilator I provide by suddenly not showing up for 5 days, but still, these ones have the best chance.

Then there are the train wrecks. Their grades are so messed up that even if I called for a transfusion, it would take too many resources and too much time. They have wounded themselves over time, refused treatment, checked themselves out against my medical advice, and are now wanting a pill to swallow to make it all better.

It’s an impossible task.

So, when I see those teachers on the news who have duck taped students to chairs, or written “Test Tomorrow” in marker on a student’s forehead, or given an award for Least Likely to Pay Attention, I am horrified and cringe.

Because those stories could easily be mine. I’m just lucky that I haven’t completely lost my sanity. Yet.

The lounge this time of year has a macabre, twisted and dark quality. Things that we never would laugh at in September are daily routines. It’s the only way to survive.

It’s similar to combat humor.

I’m not proud, but this is how intense it is at the end of the year. We have paper chains counting down the days the seniors have and how many for the underclassmen. We half seriously joke about spiking our water bottles. We wonder what happens to the confiscated drugs and wonder if there’s any Valium available. 

And at the end of it all, there will be survivors and casualties. There will be sorrow, regret and triumph. I’ll watch kids cross the stage and know that I helped them get there, and I’ll mourn the ones that I just couldn’t reach. And I’ll spend a lifetime wondering what happens to them after high school.

But right now it’s the height of the battle. There are known and unknown enemies, and some kids still insist on detonating land mines. And we’ll all work and reach out and try to save as many as we can.

But they can’t all be saved. Some insist on sabotaging themselves. Others are in denial. And for some, it’s just too damn late.

And when the war of 2016-2017 is over, we’ll clean up the mess, the blood and chaos, and take that last trip back home trying to make sense of it all.

Until the next tour of duty in September.

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