|2011-01-17||Steve Gardiner||Email from a Former Student|
“I think you were my English teacher 29 years ago,” he wrote.
I remembered his name. I also remembered an incident he described when he got into some trouble at school and my response was to have him use his journal writing as a means of working through the problem and reaching a solution. He did, and in the email, he thanked me for making that suggestion and helping him get past a rough spot in his life.
He went on to describe how after high school, he had gone on to college, had a successful career in corporate communications, and was pleased with his accomplishments. In my mind, I pictured a short, brown-haired boy sitting in my classroom in the late 70s—then realized that he is now approaching 50 years old. The gap of a handful of years that then seemed so big, enough to make me the teacher and him the student, now seemed insignificant.
Like most teachers, I suppose, I have often thought back on students that have been in my classes throughout the years. I have wondered how their lives have gone, what decisions they have made, what lessons they have learned, and what successes they have had. While I have always hoped for the best for each student, life doesn't always work that way, and I know some have had hard lives and faced difficult challenges.
Most of the students we have are in our lives for a brief period of time. They move on to other classes, to college, to the military, to careers, and to life. We move on in our lives, too, but occasionally, as with the email I received, those lives cross again. It is a fascinating journey to go back in time, stand in the classroom again, remember those former students, and imagine their passage through the years and their lives.
We become teachers to help others. We want to help students grow and learn. We want to make a difference in their lives.
An email, like the one I received, is a reminder that sometimes that does happen. I was happy to think that even as a very young teacher, I had developed a relationship with a student that he remembered almost three decades later. It is like a thread that winds its way through years of teaching, brings other students to mind, and makes me realize that the work we do is truly important. It makes a difference in the lives of students, and equally as important, makes a difference in our lives, as well.
“Yes, I was your teacher 29 years ago,” I replied.