Too Many Lamars - Part Three
Updated: Nov 23, 2019
Lamar Thomas – Part Three
Time passed. I had a job as a public information officer for one of the major school districts. It wasn’t as fulfilling as teaching, but it wasn’t as heart-wrenching, either. My student teaching experience had taken its toll.
One Saturday, I was sprawled out on the floor reading the newspaper when a photograph caught my eye. It was Lamar, my Lamar from my student-teaching days. The State was featuring him in their “A Child Is Hoping” column where they tried to help an orphan find a family. I knew I couldn’t adopt Lamar, but I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tutor him in the evenings. I wanted to do something. I dialed the number.
I explained who I was and how I knew Lamar. Before I could finish, the social worker cut me off and said he was back on the streets. They were closing his file. She wasn’t very nice about it. I’m sure she was hardened by a system that sees a revolving door of Lamars.
After the Lamar incident, I went back to the classroom. The next ten years of my career are filled with stories of children dealing with more than they should have to face. Richland County, Lexington County, the location mattered not. White, black, Hispanic - again it didn’t matter. Poverty is the great equalizer, and heartache is color-blind.
My Lamar Thomas story is not unique. Ask any teacher who has taught for any period of time and she will tell you one hundred stories like this one. Any teacher will tell you our society is messed up. The system is broken. A teacher’s job is to teach skills – math, reading, history. But teachers do so much more than that, and that is why they are tired. That is why they get burned out and leave.
Teachers are fixers. They want to fix the whole child. Teachers know that children can’t learn when they are hungry. They can’t learn when they are afraid. They can’t learn when they do not know where they are going to sleep that night. They can’t learn if they don’t have any friends. They can’t learn if their parents are fighting every night. They can’t learn when their shoes are too tight and they have nobody to buy them a new pair. Yes, teachers want to fix the whole child, but that is often an impossible task.
Every now and then I run in to former students from my early years of teaching. One is a preacher. One is a funeral director. One is a manager of a pest control company who came out to do my home inspection. One took my order in the drive-thru. I resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”
Some students have found me on Facebook, and I love following their lives. But, I’m still haunted by the stories that came out of student-teaching days. It would be easy enough to reach out to the orphanage and try to get a report. Yes, I could make the call and try to find out what happened to my Lamar, what happened to all the children from the orphanage who were in my care, but I don’t think my heart can handle the answers.
Instead, I focus on the time I spent with them when they were in sixth grade. I’ll think of us playing H-O-R-S-E at recess and trying tongue twisters together in class. I’ll pull out notes they wrote me, and I’ll look at old photographs, and that will be enough. I know that for fifty minutes every day, there was a little spot of happiness in their lives. That’s what all good teachers do. They create little bits of magic, little bits of escape, every day.
Tammy Davis is a local writer. Her first book, Chin Up, Buttercup, is available on Amazon. She hopes everyone who reads this article will reach out to a teacher who made a difference. It will mean more than you can imagine!