A pony? No. Chocolate? Not so much. A new Ferrari (as though an old Ferrari would be somehow troubling)? Nope. In recent months, I’ve been gifted with a couple presents that top all others, because their wealth of meaning is almost limitless. And what were these marvelous gifts: two e-mails. Pretty exciting, huh?
As a writer seeking representation, it’d be easy to think these e-mails might be requests for partials and fulls (and those are lovely to be sure), but these e-mails struck deeper because they came from the past. Or rather, the collective pasts of myself and the senders of the e-mails, both of whom I haven’t seen in about ten years.
I’ve mentioned before that, for six years, I taught social studies, mostly at the middle school level. My belief is that teaching is one of the most important jobs out there, and while a teacher, I worked obsessively to make my class something unique, something challenging, and, every chance I got, something fun. History class lends itself perfectly to battle re-enactments and hands-on strategies. Some of my most enjoyable education-related activities included: having the students ride a boat (made of all the desks dragged into the hallway) across the English Channel to attack the beaches of Normandy; a wild trench warfare battle, complete with bubbles (mustard gas, of course); and a stealth mission through the jungles of Vietnam to teach team building, leadership, and a little history (on the sly).
I loved being a teacher, even though it was the most exhausting job I could ever imagine. But one of the hardest things about teaching is that it is very much like investing with everything you have in a future you will never see. Never. Well, that’s what I thought until some of my students sought me out. And I have to say a big thank you to technology in our modern world that allows people to be found.
The thrill of hearing from former students just can’t be measured on any scale I can think of. The first reached out several months ago, and I’ve had the good fortune to hear about his life now. What an absolute treat. In middle school, he was the kind of kid you had to smile at no matter how much he tried to usurp power through his role as class clown. I’ve heard of parents who scold kids while trying to hold back their laughter, and I can only imagine he was that kind of kid for his parents. And now? He is the youngest sergeant in his unit in the Army and recently returned to Iraq. I am so proud of his choice to serve his country... and maybe a little worried, too. Current events are a lot more powerful when you know people whose dedication to the United States places them in harm’s way. But regardless of worried former teacher syndrome, I am so glad that he found me and shared his grown-up life story with me (he’s even got a very pretty fiancée now). And it is a wonderful compliment that he sought out a teacher from a decade ago.
The second contact from a former student came just a couple weeks ago and seriously made my day (and every day I think of it). This former student was in my class the same year as the previously mentioned one, and she was one of those amazing kids you recognize from a mile away. Compassion. Intelligence. Courage. All great things, just not normally found in a middle school student. Most are struggling to find their place in the scope of life, and she just knew hers. So, to hear from her, to be thought of by her, is a great honor. And her words... absolutely priceless.
Here is some of what she wrote (printed with her permission of course):
“I wanted you to know that you were the most inspirational teacher I ever had. As cliche as that may be, it's true. As I get ready to move forward in my academic career, I have you to thank for challenging me to think beyond the realm of the classroom and stand up for what I believe in. I have thought of you and your class often, knowing that part of the reason I have had the courage to do many of the things I have done in the past four years is because of what you taught and instilled in me in middle school. Teachers like you are hard to come by, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from such a passionate and incredible teacher and person.”
She absolutely made me cry the best kinds of tears ever. And when she mentioned the things she’s had the courage to do... that included volunteering in Africa. Amazing.
I always felt blessed to be a teacher and honored for the role I played in the lives of young people. And, yes, teaching is investing in a future you most likely won’t be able to see, but when you do get to, it is one of the most amazing feelings imaginable. These two former students turned fantastic, courageous adults humble me by reaching out to their middle school social studies teacher, to not only share their lives but to ask about mine. One funny thing is how awkward it is when I tell them that since they are all grown up, they can call me by my first name. He has made it through Miss Julie and settled on Teach, and she is working on it.
Huge thanks to both for giving the best presents ever by sharing their current lives with a person from their pasts.
Quote for the Day from Mary Anne Radmacher
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”