The Ones Who Get Away

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series in which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do.

Jess Turkot is an amazing teacher. So amazing, in fact, that I had the opportunity to present her with the Teacher of the Year Award in 2017. Maternal, kind, and reflective, Jess’s post speaks to a part of teaching about which we rarely talk: the ones who get away. If she had her way, she would save them all.


Sometimes the most powerful moments as a teacher are those when there is nothing we can do. The moments when we are forced, for one reason or another, to walk away. The moments when we straight up ugly cry after all our resources have been exhausted, and we’re simply left with a broken heart, pondering what could have been done differently.  

I have suffered through students dropping out when they were meant for much more, students who have been bullied to the point of self-harm, and others who have tried their best to overdose, but have thankfully been unsuccessful, after suffering bad days. These heartbreaking moments are the ones that have changed and defined me as a person, as a teacher, and that will stick with me forever.

My most recent heartbreak is still so fresh and raw that I cannot help but tear up each time I think of this child because of the painful knot it creates in my stomach.  He has become the one I wish I could bring home, the one I wish I could hug to take away all of his pain, the one who I wish others could empathize with because he is so much more than most people choose to see. However, he is also the one I am being forced to walk away from because state laws override my classroom, even though they can’t change what is held firmly in my heart.

This young boy has lived lifetimes in his twelve short years.  He has been rejected by his family, ridiculed by most of his peers, and has not been provided with useful supports throughout his education at the numerous schools he has attended.  You see, this boy, my heartbreak, has been in and out of seven foster homes, has spent many nights hungry, and has been robbed of the life his adopted siblings have been lucky to receive.

Where does he go from here?  

The answer: self-sabotage.  He makes it so that he cannot be hurt because he thinks ahead to cause his own pain.  He won’t allow anyone to hurt him again, so he decides to hurt himself because, he is convinced, that will solve his problem.  The only decision he can make is to do wrong, so this is exactly what he does.

As a teacher, how can I change this?  How can I make him see that he is worth the battle? How can I make him see what I see and prevent the pain he is bringing upon himself? I want to provide so much for him and to finally witness him receiving the love and happiness he deserves, but I will not because I cannot.  I am being forced to walk away as he is again being sent off to another foster home, a change of schools, and a huge amount of uncertainty.

This is my most recent heartbreak.  I will know there will be many more and that the powerful moments to come with them will remain a part of me forever.   

Jessica Turkot is a middle school Read 180 teacher in Collingswood, NJ.  As a graduate of Audubon High School class of 2001, Jessica enrolled in Rutgers University.  After college, she began her first teaching job in Collingswood as an elementary teacher and then transitioned to middle school where she discovered her true passion.  She is currently working to add to her portfolio a Master’s degree in Education with a Special Education certification from Saint Joseph’s University. At home she enjoys cheering on her three children, Autumn, Ariana, and Dylan, while they perform on the court or on stage and playing pickleball with her husband Paul.