I recently learned that one of my former students has passed away, which is strange. This is actually the second time this has happened, following the student who found out that her cancer had come back near the end of my first semester of teaching. Unlike that student, this student was not particularly engaged in class. In fact, he was my student twice because he failed my intro course the first time he took it and enrolled in my course again over the summer, where he failed again.
When a student fails my course once, I wonder what else the student could have done. When this student failed my course twice, I wondered what else I could have done. The odds were against his academic success. He grew up in a poor area and went to a poor school. He was not prepared for college but was able to attend on an athletic scholarship. In addition to the demanding practice schedule he was frequently distracted from his school work by trips home to visit an ailing relative.
The way that students enter our lives, spend 16 weeks with us, and then leave our lives is strange to me. This was especially true when I was teaching in graduate school, since I often taught the same course and repeat students were rare. Still, I sometimes wonder what happened to them. The student who had cancer. The student who was suffering from depression. The only student to have failed one of my courses twice. Regardless of their in-class performance, I always hope that things will work out for them and it is always sad when they don’t.
This student died of an apparent medical condition, not the fact that he failed Introduction to Sociology twice, so it is unlikely that I could have had an effect on his life if I had been more involved in his education. But still, I wonder.