Darrell Huckaby: Losing a student one of the toughest trials of teaching

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Teaching has many trials and tribulations -- along with many rewards. If you do it right it is a really hard job, and if you are willing to really give of yourself you run the risk of disappointment and heartache -- but if you don't give of yourself you aren't a teacher at all -- just a disseminator of information.

Sometimes I don't think the people in the ivory towers of learning who are telling those of us in the trenches how we are supposed to do what we have given our lives to doing know the difference. In fact, I am sure of it -- but that's another story for another day.

I have spent this century teaching AP U.S. history to 11th-graders at Heritage High School. I have the best kids in the world. I love my job and I love my students -- even when they aren't particularly lovable. I try to demand a lot from them because I want them to learn to compete in a world that is becoming more and more competitive with each passing year. I really and truly do pour as much of myself into my job as I can and wouldn't want to do it any other way.

I care about my students and, having been in the community for a long time, have taught entire families of students. I will admit that, try as hard as I might to avoid doing so, sometimes I will address a student by his or her sibling's name. Even though I do that from time to time, I do realize that every child is different and attempt to appreciate each student's individuality.

I have taught three Reisingers, Bridgette, Luke and Thomas. There is one to go -- Spirit, they call her. I am sorry to say that although the mind and spirit are willing, the flesh is growing weak and I will not be around to teach her.

The Reisingers are a special family to me. Parents, Wanda and Michael, have raised their children to be free thinkers with opinions of their own. None of them have been shy about sharing their thoughts and opinions and none of them could ever be accused of just going along to get along. They are intelligent and polite, understand -- but not afraid to use their brains. They have all been fun to teach.

Plus, they live practically next door and their mother makes great pecan pies, so I have developed a special attachment to the family.

Luke was born second. Even in the 11th grade he was tall and lanky and would barely fit into the government-issue-one-size-fits-all school desks. I can still see him, in my mind's eye, slumped back in his seat, his more-than-ample feet flat on the floor, his body resting precariously on his spine.

Being the hard-nosed, old-school pain-in-the-butt pedagogue that I am, I would tell Luke a few times a day -- for two years -- to sit up straight in his desk. I always got the same wry smile in response and Luke always sat up straight -- for as long as he could stand to.

Luke tolerated my AP class, but I think he really enjoyed the Current Issues class he took from me as a senior elective. We were a close-knit group, that class. It was a senior elective and the kids had a lot of respect for one another. Each day they engaged in a free discussion of ideas and Luke, through his thoughtful comments and sweet personality, earned the respect and affection of the entire class.

Last winter, when I was so very weak and wondering how much longer I would even be around, Luke came by to see me whenever he came home from school. He was a student at LSU and enjoyed telling me all about his adventures in Baton Rouge. I could tell that he was really in his element. He loved the athletic program and the academics and was doing well. I thoroughly enjoyed his visits and let him sprawl all over our couch without once admonishing him to sit up straight. I think he enjoyed the visits, too.

Last week, my heart was broken when I learned that Luke Reisinger, whom I admired, respected and loved, had passed away at the age of 19. A Saturday night in a college town. Kids partying. Luke ingested a couple of things that should not have been mixed together and did not wake up. One lousy mistake in judgment cost Luke his life, and now his parents grieve a lost son, his siblings grieve a lost brother and his friends grieve a lost friend -- and nobody grieves like teenagers.

Luke's memorial service was very touching, but very tough to take. Most of the members of his Current Issues class came in together and slid into the pew right in front of me. A lot of tears were shed and many of them came from my eyes.

I will always wonder if there is something I could have said or done that would have prevented this tragedy. I will always remember what a great kid Luke was, and what a kind and decent young man he grew up to be. And I will always miss him. That's what comes from caring.

May his family find comfort in the fact that he made such a positive impression on so many people -- including me.

Darrell Huckaby is a Rockdale County author and educator. Readers may email him at dhuck008@gmail.com.