I had a hard time writing this post. In fact, I kept putting it off all week and now, a week and a day later, I am forced to write something. I feel like I should have a big, inspiring story about a former student who contacted me years later to thank me for being his or her teacher.
But, sadly, I don’t have a story like that though after 30 years of teaching, it seems like I should. At least, I don’t have one big story. I have small moments.
It seems like those should count, too. They’re important. Aren’t they?
I can excuse myself by saying that of the 30 years I’ve been in education, I spent seven out of the classroom, and so I lost contact with a lot of kids and their families. But, that sounds lame. What is true (read: less lame) is that I have never stayed more than six years in one school site and I’ve moved from North to South America and back again twice. It’s easy to sever ties when that happens.
Nevertheless, I do have one small moment from this past year to share. In January one of my students moved away and for a few months after that, we were in touch via email. My student would write about how much she missed our class, what she was doing and, in one memorable email, thanked me for being a strict teacher.
Bye miss I will never forget you, from all the teachers I had you’ve been the funniest, hilarious, and the one who most teached (sic) me. I like you most…because your’e strict. Take it as a good thing because you are preparing us for the other grades. THANK YOU. You’ve also been very funny. Never forget me because I never will.
This was from a student who spent the entire time she was in my class trying to undermine or poke fun at everything we did. I could never call her out on it, but I knew she was doing things behind my back. The fact that everyone found her charming, and I found her sneaky, made my suspicions that much harder to handle.
Social media has facilitated staying in touch with families of former students. Facebook, LinkedIn, email, and Twitter make it easy to track down just about anybody you want to find who wants to be found.
I know that my students from my first few years of teaching are out there somewhere. They’re in their early 30’s. I sometimes wonder where they are, what they’re doing. How they turned out. Do they remember our year together?
It took me over 20 years to connect with a teacher who was my mentor in high school. I don’t know if I’ve ever told him how much he meant to me at the time. Even after reuniting face-to-face a few years ago in NY, I never got up the courage to thank him for his support, encouragement and unconditional faith in my potential to become whatever I set my mind on becoming. I wonder how often that really happens. There are definitely stories out there, but how often do students contact their former teachers to thank them? I wish I’d told Mr. G how grateful I was that he was my teacher. But, I still haven’t done that. Does that mean I care any less? Does that make him less effective?
I’d like to think it doesn’t. But, taking the time to reach out makes us feel appreciated and loved.
As I move into my 31st year in education, although I have no regrets there are many things I wish I had done differently. I hope my hundreds of former students out there know that I love them and wish them well.
And, I hope it’s mutual.
I learned so much more from my students than they could have ever learned from me.
Thank you for being my teachers.