We all had teachers who stood out. Some were memorable because they inspired us or helped to change the course of our lives. Some we remember for the exact opposite reasons. And some remain etched into our brain because of their quirks, idiosyncrasies, or catch phrases.
A few nights ago I had dinner with a former student of mine. She had recently found me on Facebook, was coincidentally back in town, and she wanted to catch up. I was elated. It is always a treat to have these little versions of “What Are They Doing Now?” whenever my path crosses with an old student. As a teacher, I could not help but get invested in my “girls,” as I would call them (no, it is not that I ignored the boys…I taught at an all-girls Catholic high school). It is the nature of the craft.
I have gotten together to catch up with students before; some I even talk to on a fairly regular basis. Inevitably there are always kids you grow a little closer to: you taught them for multiple years, you helped them solve an important problem, and so on. I always seemed to strike up a deeper relationship with my Yearbook students since the nature of that class afforded us all to chat about our lives; therefore, I knew them all a little better. These were usually the kids that would shoot me an email when they were in town to grab some lunch and catch up.
But this time was a little different. This particular former student was in the very first class I taught as a fledgling teacher. They were a great class, and we all got along smashingly, her included. She was a good student, but art was her thing, not English. So after leaving my class, she became one of the many students who would still say hello to me in the hallways, and that became the course of our relationship until she graduated. I was just as proud to see her receive her diploma as I was of any of my students, but then I never saw her again. As far as I knew, she didn’t give me another thought. It happens.
But then we met up the other night, and it was wonderful to hear about where life had taken her. She is an amazing, and I mean AMAZING, artist, and it was beautiful to see how she has found the courage and strength to find what will make her feel happy and fulfilled. When I told her how delighted I was that she had contacted me, and how it is always a nice little surprise when students find me on Facebook, she replied, “Of course! Who wouldn’t want to ‘friend’ you on Facebook? We always had fun in your class!” Well, shucks. But seriously, that was a wonderful validation for me, even now that I am not teaching anymore. I know how much of myself I put into being a teacher; I know how much I racked my brain for ways to keep my students interested; I know how much I agonized when they were not working to their potentials, or when I just could not seem to get something across to them. But they did not know that. So it felt really good to hear that somehow it all came through, and even better to hear it from a student I would not have expected.
Now I sit here and think of all the teachers I had over the course of my education and wonder how many of them realized the impact they had on me. My grade school Music teacher Miss Mooney, who undoubtedly created the connection in my brain that music equals fun, and who taught me that everyone has the right to sing by giving me a solo in the spring concert…despite my lack of tone and pitch. My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Semsar, who taught me that some things in life are just “no big hairy deal.” My middle school Science teacher Mrs. Lonigro, who was so knowledgable and passionate that she made me love regenerating amoebas, and who probably taught me more about the written language with her strict grading policies than my middle school English teacher. My eighth grade History teacher Mr. Blackford, who was the first adult, nay person, to really and truly encourage my love for the Monkees by giving me his old Mike Nesmith-inspired wool hat. My high school Art teacher Ms. Ahrens, who taught me that you do not have to be the best, but you have to do your best. My high school English teacher Miss Wilson, who gave me my first B in the subject, pushing me to reach her expectations, and who told me that my dreams of being an English teacher were still achievable even if I did not completely understand Shakespeare at age fifteen. My high school Latin teacher Domina Creed, who, dare I say, made Latin fun, and who called me after I had four teeth pulled to make sure I was feeling okay. My university History professor who once lectured a whole class period in the character of a stockbroker who lost everything during the Crash of 1929. My university English professor Dr. Preussner, who opened my eyes to the fact that Hawthorne was kind of a “hottie” and who made discussing Melville kind of interesting (sue me, I am not a fan). And finally, my high school Math teacher Mr. Stein who blew my mind by using the current love triangle on Days of Our Lives to explain inductive and deductive reasoning, and who, more than anyone, made me want to be a teacher.
This list of ladies and gentlemen boasts an astounding amount of talent. And if in any way I had the same impact on my students that they had on me, I am truly humbled.