Facebook can be such a wonderful thing. I use it to keep up with family members, friends, colleagues, and former students of mine, particularly the ones I taught my very first year, who are now juniors in high school. I post words of encouragement on their walls, ask them about their families and schoolwork, and even assist them with homework assignments and papers from time to time. Anyway, as I was sitting at home yesterday afternoon, browsing and checking messages, I ran across the profiles of two of my former female students, both of whom are now juniors in high school. What I found on both profiles shocked me and brought tears to my eyes: both these young ladies are mothers now. My first reaction was to scream out loud "Noooo, not you (jnsert name of former student here)!!! You've got a baby now? What the f#%k happened?" And at that last part, I had to laugh at myself (even as I'd begun to cry), because it was obvious what had happened, and their two small babies were the evidence of it.
At first, I scolded myself for having the reaction that I did. Why did I care so much? Who was I to be upset, or shocked, or hurt that these young women had become teen mothers? I had only taught them for a year, so why was I bothering to still check up on them anyway? I had seen tons of young girls have babies throughout my adulthood, so why did I feel so affected by these two? And then I remembered the time I had spent with them when they were in middle school. I remembered having each one in my English class, and thought about all the potential I had seen in each one of them. I thought about how I had tutored one of them after school twice a week, and how proud I felt when her grades and test scores finally began to improve. I thought about how the other one would come to school way earlier than the other kids, because she knew I got there early, and that was our time to talk about all the rough things she was going through at home. I thought about the life I had wanted so badly for both of them: a college education, a career, options beyond their rural, poverty-stricken community. And its not that they can't ever have these things because they now have children; I've seen several young mothers defy the odds and attain an education and a stable life for themselves and for their kids. I guess what hurts me to my core is the fact that I know the difficulties that lie ahead of them, and I know that the odds are not stacked in their favor. I know how tempting it will be for both of them to just drop out of school, because trying to take care of a young baby and go to school is so hard. And without that education, I know how hard it will be for them to get a decent, well-paying job, thus forcing them into a cycle of poverty and unemployment that they are both all too familiar with because of their own upbringings. I know that society will label them as just another pair of statistics, and dismiss them as yet another addition to the long list of young mothers receiving public assistance.
Even though I felt disappointed, I still sent each one my customary "How's everything going in school, I'm here for you if you need me" message. But for these two young ladies, I added an extra line: "You can do it. No matter what anyone says or how difficult things may seem, you can do it. Giving up is still not an option." I pray to God that that ends up being the case.