Yesterday was my last day in the classroom. My replacement — a really wonderful young man who will be so great with my (his) students — came to observe the class and he took over today. It was strange not to take the shorter commute this morning and head for class. I wasn’t sad about it, just feeling how weird it was. As much as I’ll miss my class, miss teaching, miss all the wonderful things I get from that work, I’m really excited about working on this ginormous community organizing / program planning project I’m going to be focusing on, and that really keeps me from feeling truly sad about leaving the classroom.
Around lunchtime, I had to stop at one of the health centers that we’re affiliated with. I walked in and had to wait a few minutes at the front desk. I was thinking about my students and about how they’re going to adjust to the very different teaching style of Mr. Roberts, their new instructor (just the fact that they’ll be calling him Mr. Roberts instead of Dan is already a big change). I was wondering if I’d managed to really give them anything this term in light of how splintered my time and attention have been.
I looked across the waiting room and saw a big poster that said, “Meet our new doctors,” over the photos of the five new providers. And then I looked more closely and confirmed that, yes, the woman second from the left was Jocelyn, a young woman I taught many (make that MANY) years ago when she was a senior in high school and hoping to be a doctor one day!
We had a nice little reunion in her office … as soon as she got over the surprise of finding me in her office, and one of the things she said when she introduced me to the people who’d witnessed our first squealing, ZOMG hug was, “Remember that teacher I told you about, who helped me get into college when I didn’t really have a chance? This is her!”*
That’s surely not as true as she made it sound. I helped her with her application essays. I taught her some things about writing and literature. I told her she should be proud of how tall she is and not hunch over. That’s really it.
As I walked away from the health center after another hug and another head shake of wonder at the smallness of the world, I remembered what I’d been thinking about before I saw Jocelyn’s photo on the wall. I’ve been pretty distracted this term, trying to figure out all the “new” that has suddenly landed in my work life. I know I’ve connected with my students on some level. They like me plenty. There were some tears yesterday when we had to say goodbye (and they weren’t mine). I’m not doubting any of that, and I’m not saying it’s unimportant. But what have they learned this term? I worry that all of them would be hard pressed to answer that question.
Then I thought about Jocelyn. I really don’t think I did all that much for her when she was my student. I was distracted then, too, busy trying to learn how to be a teacher. I worked hard, I was invested in my students’ progress and success, but I hadn’t yet become the kind of teacher I hoped I’d be. I was too distracted with figuring it all out. And yet she credits me with a level of support I wouldn’t have imaged myself capable of giving.
I hope that one day my students will reflect on their time with me and see something positive in it. I’m perfectly content to wait the 18 years it took for me to hear Jocelyn’s description of who I was in her life.
* Yeah, yeah, I know: This is she, but get real. Who would say that in this moment … or ever?**
** Ok, I know: Mildred would say it. I might even, occasionally, say it. Still.