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Catherine Martinez: Tragic partings overshadow a teacher's good goodbyes

To my two or three readers of this commentary, I apologize for my silence. I have descended briefly into my end-of-year funk when I face the transition from 15-hour days to long stretches of empty time. This year has been complicated by my turning 65 and becoming officially “old” plus the deaths of a colleague and two students and the serious illness of another faculty member.

I worked with Sonya Sheppard-Hunter since she started working for my school in the early 2000s. Although she taught English, we became better acquainted when she moved across the hall from me at the new middle school. I have watched her slow decline from her serious health issues, while respecting her passion for teaching and her commitment to her students. Certainly, if a long life was a reward for love and commitment to service, she should have lived to a hundred. I am told she had a beautiful voice and almost chose singing as a career. The light is gone from the end of our hallway, and I am sure she is singing her soul out in the celestial choir.

The week after we lost Sonya, two of my students, Catherine and Cassandra Colon, were killed in a trailer fire. I had them both last year and this year. They were normal 14 year olds, dedicated to fun and friends and looking forward to their transition ceremony in June. They were very close to their mother, and I cannot imagine the pain she is going through right now. While I know they are in a better place, I grieve for all the lost potential, careers, loves, and children unborn.

Then we found out that one of my teacher aides, Delores Bynes, was on life support. She went in for a routine procedure and something went wrong. I have worked closely with her for the last few years, especially since we moved over to the new middle school. She loved art and designed and sewed her own clothes, practically a lost art. She was looking forward to retiring in a few weeks. She was planning to travel and spend more time with her grandchildren. Then we learned on Monday that Ms. Bynes had died. The kids are devastated. I still can’t believe she is gone.

We just said goodbye to our seniors last week and will say to goodbye to our 8th graders next week. The end of the school year is always a time for goodbyes, as teachers look forward to the free time they have earned with their long hours during the school year while celebrating their students moving to another level. But this year the goodbyes are more poignant and permanent.


Catherine Shore Martinez is a National Board Certified teacher at Pahokee Middle Senior High School in Palm Beach County. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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