09/29/2016 03:35 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2017

When It Hurts To Teach

  • When your throat literally closes up and you cannot speak.
  • When your stomach drops like a cableless elevator in a skyscraper.
  • When you sink to your knees and offer a million bargains to just have her be okay.
  • When nothing, nothing else matters except that one thing you don't have: reassurance that your student is alive

I thought I lost her. I thought she was gone. On a date that does not matter to this post, a student whose identity does not matter to this post was dead--or so I feared--and my heart was disintegrating.

After an emotional reaction to an academic disappointment in my class, my fragile student fled. Slipping away from the staff, she disappeared. As teachers, paras, administrators, and school security quietly but urgently looked for her, I sat alone in my office, shaking and helpless.

I wasn't really alone, though. Several other students joined me. The three boys killed in a car accident my first year of teaching, the volleyball player who died after complications from brain surgery, the boy whose degenerative disease had finally won, the far-too-many students who were victims of suicide. They came right beside me while my panicked mind prayed for a text or phone call or e-mail saying that my fleeing student had been found...alive.

What do we learn when crisis enters the school building and life is in peril? A whole lot I think! While shivering in my office, I cared very little about today's educational jargon. Standardized tests, Common Core, evaluations, growth models, PLNs, evidence, formative assessment--I couldn't care less about any of that as the painful hour of waiting, waiting, waiting unfolded. The merits and menaces of all of those things shrank in the looming reality that my student, someone I helped and commended and supported and believed in, was missing.

What else do we learn when crisis enters the school building and life is in peril? We learn that we love our kids. We do. In their quirky, unpredictable, inconsistent selves, there is beauty. In their imperfect, insecure, puzzling selves, there is promise. In their impulsive, achieving, tender selves, there is love.

There is most certainly love. Why else would we deal with all of that educational jargon and translate it into the best possible learning experiences for our students? Because we love them. That makes it worth it to traverse the pitfalls of this profession. Yes, it means the pain of their pain is as paralyzing as what I felt when my student disappeared, but it also means immense, brilliant exhilaration when they take a step toward becoming what their potential promises they can be.

They found her. She was alive. She is alive as I type this post. She was never in danger of hurting herself after all; she was just somewhere no one expected her to be. And I? I cried when I found out because love hurts. And what did I do when I saw her again? I did what any true educator would do: I taught her.