I was teaching Freshman English. There was a very good student, female, 23 or so. Really bright and engaged. Frankly, it was nice to have someone other than 18-year-olds in the class. She consistently participated and was the best part of the class for me personally. And then one day, she stopped coming. Two weeks went by. Not a peep. It isn’t uncommon for students to put off dropping a class until the deadline, so while I was disappointed, I wasn’t concerned. Then she showed up, apologizing for missing so much time. By rule, she’d already failed the class, but I sensed something was awry, so I worked with her on a schedule to complete the work she’d missed. And then she missed those deadlines and begged for more extensions. I asked her what was up, and she burst into tears and told me that her boyfriend had beaten the crap out of her. She showed me the bruises on her arms and legs. It was awful. Of course, I talked her into letting me call the police and I sent her to university-provided counseling.
It got worse. I asked the a–hole department-chair what to do about her grade. He ordered me to kick her out of my class. “Oh God, anything but that,” I pleaded. But he was firm. If I didn’t kick her out, he would. “You’re not doing her any favors by letting her fail,” he said. And so, in one of the hardest conversations I will ever have, I told her to withdraw so I didn’t have to fail her. You cannot even imagine my guilt, especially when she sobbed that she would lose her financial aid and have to drop out of school entirely. What do you even say to that? But the deed was done. She dropped all of her classes and disappeared from the university altogether, as promised.
A few years later, I was working a soulless corporate job in another city. My old English department secretary emailed me and told me a former student was trying to contact me. It was her. She’d finally finished school, and she wanted to let me know. It was a moment of pure joy. And to give the guy his due, the department chair had been absolutely right.
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