I once had a student named Button

A long time ago I taught kindergarten in an urban area, at a school with a very high poverty rate.  One year I had a little boy — we’ll call him Button, because he was as cute as one — whose family was in disarray, and who had gotten inadequate parenting in his first years of life.

His academic skills were extremely low, and he could barely talk.  He had difficulty forming lots of sounds, but he also had a very small vocabulary and not much experience speaking in sentences.  Button was very sweet, and caused few problems in class, but I worried because he was so far behind and his communication skills were so poor.  His father, who had recently taken custody from his mother, was a nice man who was doing the best he could, but who admitted he didn’t have much experience raising a child.  His mother I only met at the end of the year, at kindergarten graduation.  She said to me, “My Button is so smart; he is such a smart boy,” and I couldn’t think of anything to say (“well, actually, he is really far behind where he needs to be, going into first grade”?!), so I just smiled at her.  I wished that I could have done more for him.

On Saturday Button was walking down the street when somebody shot him.

Button is dead.  He was sixteen years old.  I was his kindergarten teacher.

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16 thoughts on “I once had a student named Button

  1. While reading this passage, I could just picture Button and understand your frustration as you wanted so much to help him. My heart broke as I read the ending. As we all know, Button is only one of scores and scores of students we lose each year, students who also had caring teachers who so much wanted to help them. I can only guess how difficult it must be to cope with such a loss, but I hope you also take the time to remember all of the children who are leading healthy and productive lives at least partially because of your guidance, support, and love.

  2. There is so much pain in that. Pain for you and for him and for those who cared for him. But also pain for all of us who fear the future for our students.

  3. As horrible a tragedy this is . . . focus on all the sucesses you’ve had. Your classroom is full of them this year. You ARE making a difference in many, many lives. I am so sorry you are hurting the loss of this precious life. Do whatever you need to do for YOU to heal and move forward. Your sweet little fruit need you this year! sending hugs and love.

  4. This makes me so sad. Partly because I lost a former Head Start student several years ago. She, too, had come from less than stellar beginnings, but was making huge progress. Her father took her illegally from her mother to another state and while they were in the process of resolving the matter legally, her stepmother beat her to death. I can truly feel your sorrow. I’m so sorry for Button and for my Jessica.

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