Linda Darling Hammond
Interview With Carolyn Lawrence
Carolyn Lawrence is an assistant principal and former English teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Q: Can you think of one experience you've had in the classroom or in the principal's room that changed the way you look at your job?
Several days ago, I had the misfortune of having some students come to my office and just totally, totally upset. And I found myself sitting there looking at them, thinking, "What now?" And I ultimately did ask, "What now?" And, one child was at the point of tears, which is very unusual for 17 year olds, 18 year olds. And they told me that they thought that a young man had gone, had left school with the intent of committing suicide. And I was just stunned. And they showed me a note that he had written and left in the locker, and the note very graphically said "I just think I'm gonna, I'm just gonna end it, I'm just gonna kill myself." And that was, those were the 2 sentences there. So I asked, "Well, where do you think he might go? Who are his friends?" -- just a barrage of questions to try get some kind of idea as to where we might begin looking. We looked the campus over and truly, he'd left.
We tried to get an address, but he didn't live at the address that we had on the computer, so then we had to try to figure out with whom he lived currently. We ultimately discovered that he lived with his grandmother and we got her address; I sent the security associate to the house to see if he was there. He wasn't there; we called everybody that we knew, we called his father and his stepmother. We called everybody. It was like calling out the militia. It turned out, hours later, after finding the boy safe, by the way, I'm happy to say, that he had gone to the cemetery where his mother was buried. He's approximately 16 years old, his mother has been dead since he was 8.
She died trying to protect him and his siblings from harm and he'd gone there. It was approximately 30 degrees outside, no coat, and sat at the cemetery and cried until he was just empty. He got up and started walking down the highway, towards the high school again, which is where he was found. He was brought into the office, my office. Various people had been crying intermittently as we were trying to figure out how to find this kid and I had a box of Kleenex and kept offering a Kleenex and I kept saying, "Gee, you're gonna use all the Kleenex," very humorously, to sort of lighten the load, and when that boy came in, and I could see that he was safe, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, as well. His mom and dad came in, a stepmother came in, and his stepmother walked over and hugged him, and he just nestled in her arms and just cried like a baby. His father came over and hugged him and almost lifted him out of the chair and he just boo-hooed.
And that was really when I lost it. And we were all crying, pulling napkins, Kleenex and I was passing them around. Ultimately, when the, when they all left, and we worked on this for probably about five hours, from about ten-thirty until three-thirty or somewhere therein. When they all left there was such a feeling of drain, I couldn't do anything else for the rest of the day. There's no education going on there, not in the traditional sense, but you have to deal with that, before you can deal with anything else. The next morning, he and the cousin came in and they brought a card, a thank you card with two pictures in it, of them, and a box of extra strength Puffs, gentle to your nose, to replace the Kleenex that we'd all used the day before.