Dear Suspended Student,

For the past couple of days I have been struggling with a question I can’t shake- Did you fail, or did I fail you?

You see, I knew from the first day that you were hard, but not unreachable.

I knew from the look you gave me when I asked you to take your headphones out and you stalled to see how I would respond to your delay.

I knew from the way you did what I asked when I waited for you.

I heard the failure of the system as you told me you didn’t have to turn your work in because you would pass regardless of your efforts. I heard your frustration with futility and the spinning of wheels. Why show up day to day and put in the time if no one is holding you accountable beyond this room? The majority of your days are spent being told to sit still and do your time.

I had no real answer for you because, in many ways, you were right, and it was out of my hands. I felt the frustration with futility and the spinning of wheels.  I spend the majority of my days creating hours of lessons to engage and enthrall the student who lacks motivation and accountability.

Still, I thought I was succeeding in reaching something inside when you asked for my help and swallowed your pride. You wrote a paper on acceptance and responsibility because you understood Frankenstein’s creation and the complexity of his situation. It wasn’t a just a hoop to jump through. You connected; it meant something to you.

I believed that maybe I had made an impact when I saw you at the store with your mom and you owned me. You told her who I was with a smile.

So, today I sit in frustration. I am fighting tears and anger at the futility of spinning my wheels. I’m doing only what I know to do, yet somehow I can’t help but feel that I have failed you.

You have been passing the class, but recently there has been a dip and a distraction. It isn’t just the score. I feel the failing not in the low number, but in the suspension. You broke a person physically, but the breaking body is not the only damage.

I am shaken from my dream that what I have invested can really change anything. Where did I fail? How did the lessons on connection, understanding, and seeing others for who they are instead of a stereotype not influence your actions and prevent you from the actions you took?

Grendel, Frankenstein’s Creation, and MacBeth taught us to question- Who is responsible? Is it the creation or the creator? The man or the society? How do men become monstrous?

Do I fail you, or do you fail?

I listened to J Cole’s “4 Your Eyez Only” at the recommendation of another student. I heard a trapped man lost. I heard a society and a system failing. I heard an individual failing.

I can’t fix it. I want to fix it. I am failing. You are failing. We are failing.

We research education reform. We call for change. We propose systems, courses, and plans for action, but still you sit with your headphones on holding anger and frustration until it explodes on another man.

You fail. I fail. We fail.

I will be here when you return, and we can try again. I’ll place the world of understanding at your feet, and I’ll ask you to walk beside me. Together we can cycle through the spinning of wheels and frustration. I’ll do my best not to fail you.

Will you help me fight the futility to find inspiration and a dream to attain something more than a hopeless future and a cycle of brokenness?

It matters to me because you matter to me.

The problem is too big to change for the masses through a policy or legislation. I can’t do it alone. Administration can’t do it alone. Policy makers can’t do it alone.

We need you.

We need you to dare to dream and aspire to more. We need you to believe you can. Then, we need to find a way to make that dream true.

Dear suspended student, don’t give up. Come back soon.


Mrs. Burtram







3 thoughts on “DO I FAIL YOU?

    • Author gravatar

      Way too much guilt Rebecca. You cared deeply and tried your best. The rest is up to your student and of course also to God. In the words of Keith Green “Keep doing your best and pray that it’s blessed and He’ll take care of the rest!”

    • Author gravatar

      I have felt your sadness. I try to really celebrate even small successes.

      This post touched my therapist’s heart. I am an OT in school system many of my students struggle emotionally.

      Each success is important, cling to those.

      Remember with each act of kindness you not only reach your target child but there is wonderful collateral damage. Others are always watching and learning how to treat people.

    • Author gravatar

      Beautifully expressed. I’m a teacher too, in a less commonly loved area of town. Victories seem small sometimes. The failing and falling seem frequent. But the invitation to succeed is still open. We hope for our students when no one else can–when they can’t either. And that means something, even if the results are not visible today. Thank you for sharing.

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