I figure that, over 31 years, I’ve been blessed with being in the lives of, well, let’s just say – lots – of students. And plenty of those have families of their own now, so when I can’t quite place the name of a former student’s smiling face that looks just so familiar, I’m ok knowing I just have to think about it for a few minutes. It’s often their eyes, or that smile – features that bring me back to the cute little 10 year old student I once taught. Then, the memories fall into place, and the reminiscing begins. It’s such a treat to see where life has taken ‘my kids’, a phrase every teacher fondly uses to describe every homeroom class throughout a teaching career. (The significance of which our non-teacher friends don’t really get.)
Not long ago, I was at an anniversary celebration when one of my former students approached me to chat. This one was easy to remember – Holly was one of the sweetest, kindest children I’d ever met, and even as a grown adult her dimples were still the giveaway. After a good hello hug, we settled into catching up with her life since Grade 4. She said she remembered giving me a ‘gift hug’ at the end of the year to say good bye, and recalled specifically where we were and our exchange at the time. I recall that ‘gift hug’ being a special moment, spontaneous and generous. She told me that a few weeks later in July I had sent her a post card from a conference I had attended, even quoted the words I wrote to her, and as she turned away, smiled and said she still had the card. I was shaken. After all, I had been a pretty green teacher when I taught Holly; still finding my way in my career. Loving it, yet overwhelmed by the expectations, all in one breath. Looking back I knew there were many rough patches, some things I did and said I cringe to think about now. And yet here was this young woman holding on to a card I sent her years ago.
In thinking about students I’ve taught over the years, I’m humbled by the incredible blessings I’ve received by being able to share in their lives every day. Some students like Holly, so easy to reach and teach. And then there were the most challenging students who were excruciatingly frustrating – yet taught me so much about myself, and brought me to the realization that the things we just don’t want to do as teachers are exactly the things we must do. Maybe it’s like a ‘gift hug’- rebel style.
The most we can hope for as teachers is that, at the end of their school years, our kids are ready to take their place in the world – to be their very best mom, dad, teacher, scientist, wherever life leads them. To be a faith-filled, kind, loving person and to make their corner of the world just that much better for being a part of it.
The anniversary celebration went on into the wee hours of the morning! Later on, as she was leaving, Holly found me again to say good bye. In that last hug, emotions washed over me, and all I could do was say, “Have a wonderful life.”
We parted with tears in our eyes and a flash of those dimples.