It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with each one of my students. In fact, it took minutes. I heard their names on the first day of my Men’s class and instantly felt the rush of affection grip at me. I loved these men like brothers, like friends, like children, like peers. I swear it took no time at all.
Now on our third week of class together, this love breaks my heart. We talk about home, sitting in our circle of too-small desks. I ask them to write about the soil they grew from—what did it look like, how did it shape them, who did they become?
One student tells me, “In my twenty-five years of life, I been to more funerals than I been to weddings.”
Another student reads his piece aloud and claims that sometimes death would have been a welcome option over the horrors of his upbringing.
My heart cracks each time. Someone tells me it would be easier for him to get a gun in his old neighborhood than to get a pair of shoes. He tells me the government would rather keep him locked up—rather not have him thrive. I don’t let them see it, but I scatter invisible tears across the tiled floor and douse the men with them. I weep in the privacy of myself.
My students don’t need my sympathy or my tears. These things will bring them nothing. In another room, we stand in a circle and play music that makes us think of home—music that gives them power and escape. Their energy is tangible and I pluck at it while nodding to the beats of their song requests. We nod together.
I understand that beyond the writing—beyond the poems I bring in or the prompts I offer up—this is really my purpose in these classrooms: to treat my students like human beings. They are not my students, not my men, not convicts or criminals, not Black men or White men, not Christians or Muslims, not delinquents. They are humans.
We are humans together.
-Whitney Hayes, Teacher