Shy, quiet, reserved but there was something deep underneath. They were a pair, he and #4 (yes, there are actually more than 3). My co-teacher and I each gravitated to one. They were in class together, came for help together. We all laughed and gave each other a hard time while we did math. It was fun. Lunch and after school laughter covering the frustrations they both shared while trying to learn Algebra in an overcrowded class. They made it, both of them, through their freshman and sophomore years.
Then junior year came. I had both of them again. If you walked into my class you would not have thought he was doing what he needed to do. He usually had one leg up on the desk, or he was lying on top of one or more of them. There was usually movement involved. This was how he needed to be in class. That was made very clear when he took a standardized test and got the 4th highest grade in the school on the math portion.
And there were problems at home. At one point T thought he would be kicked out of the house. He wasn't doing anything bad, there were just issues and he was 18. And I told him he would not be homeless and he would get his diploma. He was 18, he could stay with me until he graduated because he was worth it. He changed after that. He started acting like he was worth it. He took on mentor roles and excelled at working with other students. He stumbled some, but he kept going.
He started out his senior year in a high school math class but he wanted to try a college class. He did it, but wasn't able to complete it in time, so he stopped. He got a job, but had no car, so he would long board everywhere. He was late to school often because it took so long to get there. But he came. Then he got a car. Then the car broke. He had to save to fix it...and someone else broke it and now it's still broken because there is only so much money. And sometimes that money is used for other things like helping friends from church who barely have running water. So he boards again.
Then there was the essay. It explained so much he wasn't able to say verbally. The feeling of being a failure because he was so much older than his classmates. The fear being called on to read out loud because it was terrifyingly hard. People thinking he wasn't paying attention because he had to work ahead so he wouldn't feel stupid. He couldn't stay with the class and keep up. He had to work ahead to keep up. The fear of never graduating always looming over his head. Finding someone who saw him and helped him through the stumbling blocks and feeling great about being able to mentor other students through those same blocks. It's a powerful read, full of self-awareness.
He enrolled in an online math class to make up the last credit he needed. He finished his math class at 11 a.m. on the last day of school for seniors. He sat there for a minute, started to cry and said, "I never thought I would ever actually graduate". He will and I will be there to watch. He has my number and he better keep in touch. I don't want to miss him.