We can learn from the messages on the Brent Bertand memorial wall

To the Adirondack Journal:

Your article about the death of Brent Bertrand, the teacher (and so much more) at Warrensburg High School, touched my heart.

I am surrounded by kids like those who wrote so eloquently on the memorial wall, and it is they who warm my soul.

There was a study done recently of adults who had stressful upbringings, yet overcame the obstacles and built fulfilling lives. The researchers sought out common factors in the lives of their subjects.

What they found (I could have saved them a lot of money — it is detailed in my book) is that every one of them had at least one person there for them, nurturing them, listening to them, whether they were teachers, clergy, friends or neighbors. They were listening to them without judgement, which, of course, closes doors to communication.

Brent Bertrand was one of those people. Why aren't there more teachers who are there for our struggling youth? I will answer this question with an allegory.

I am friends with a young woman who was excited to enter the field of Education for which she studied and felt prepared. She recognized how powerful a role she could play in the lives of young people, and she accepted a teaching position at a poor, underfunded school.

Her first class had 51 students, all of whom were forced to enter a Regents program (the school had only recently dropped the non-Regents curriculum, which was a death knell for many of the children). It was stressed to her that she must “stay on course” and not be distracted by too many “questions” or “diversions” from the children. In other words, generating excitement for her subject, World History, would slow things up, and certainly listening to, and nurturing a student through hardship would distract from her teaching. The fact both would surely enhance the learning process was irrelevant.

(Editor’s Note: Irv West has more than 40 years experience counseling at-risk youth and serving as their advocate, as well as working tirelessly for greater understanding among generations — and for change in institutions that serve youth.)

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