The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 12 2013

An Unexpected Loss

Day 113: Warning: This will be a somewhat manic depressive post. Very good news to report, and also bad.

I’ll start with the good. As I’ve written before, I am trying to commit myself to having some sort of a life outside of school. You know, seeing friends, grabbing a drink, etc. Last night, my friend Jon was visiting from out of town. We got dinner, discussed unions and the Upper West Side, and before I knew it, it was 10 pm. With no nervous system lesson for Tuesday.

Oops? Maybe. Regrettable? Hardly. Watch as I pay for it later, but for now, this is the closest I’ve felt in a while to having a life outside of school. I actually have plans Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday! With people!!! Of course, “balance” means more than just seeing friends – sleep and exercise would be nice, too. But I’m taking this as a step in the right direction.

And now, for the bad. I got into teaching in large part because of my experience at Year Up, an education / workforce development nonprofit headquartered in Boston. To be even more specific, I loved my experience mentoring students. My very first advisee, and the one I spent the most time with both during and after his time at Year Up, was a young man named Michael Payne.

Mike could get frustrated, and very down on himself. But he worked hard, and never shied away from challenges. Everyone around him noticed and respected his work ethic. He was a quiet leader who strove to be his best. Above all, he had a supreme faith in the fact he was going somewhere, and refused to let himself be less than his best.

Friday, Mike died of a heart attack. I found out yesterday. First and most obviously, no one should die in his early 20’s. Second, for a man who had talent and wanted so badly to make the most of it, this is a particularly striking tragedy.

Third … This is the first person I’ve ever been close with who isn’t related to me who has died. More than that, this is someone who once told me I was an amazing mentor, and that my support helped him work toward being his best. He once told me that our relationship stopped him from cutting corners, or trying to take shortcuts, because he knew I would support him if he did it the hard way, faced challenges and truly grew.

In short, yesterday threw me for a loop. I’m sad Mike, a truly great guy, is gone. I’m disappointed I didn’t keep in better touch during the last two years. And I dread just how much I’ll feel if I live long enough to see one of my current students pass away. I suppose the silver lining there is, I plan to always be the kind of teacher, mentor and friend who cares truly and deeply about everyone, and would feel a loss in a powerful and personal way.

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