“When you cross paths with your present students 10 years hence, how do you anticipate the conversation will begin?”
I thought of the many conversations that I’ve had with former students and I think about the things they have already said to me and I feel proud of these things. Some of these things that were said surprised me because I don’t remember them or it wasn’t as an important interaction for me as it was for them. Here are some examples:
Many of them start off with telling me, “I am a Born Winner!” That has been my class motto for over 25 years and each student had to write that on every paper before they turned it in or I wouldn’t grade it. I think my students have heard too many negative things about themselves and need to turn their own thoughts into a positive one. Usually there is a power of wills at the beginning of the year about writing this on their papers but I’m steadfast in my will and always win. It fills my heart to know they still remember it.
Another favorite is “Remember the zoo!” This was as traumatic for me as it was for them (and David, if you are reading this, it still is but now I’m smiling!) It was the one and only time I thought I lost three high school special education students at the zoo. I tromped through the zoo looking for them practically hysterical. Since I had to go find them, I had to leave my brain injured girl with my heavy pot smoker who promised to take care of her and I prayed that they didn’t disappear next. When I found the three walking calmly down the walkway, I lit into them like a crazy woman! Here are three boys towering over me, looking sheepish and let me scream at them like one of the wild animals! Now, normally, any other student would have gone off the deep end and yelled back or walked away but these tough guys hung their heads and took what I gave them. I look back on this and think wow; they really loved and respected me. Later on, a policeman who was there with his small daughter in a stroller told me that the boys were excellently behaved and really didn’t deserve my berating which made me feel 2 inches tall. I think they took it because they realized how scared I was and how much I cared for them (at least I hope so). That is really the only time in my career that I really lost it. I still remember it as if it happened yesterday.
Another student reminded me that I always made them correct their mistakes. It drove them crazy but now they can see why I did that. I still don’t understand how some teachers give the students a grade without helping them learn what they did wrong before moving on. I’m told that teachers don’t have time to do this with the students because of all the standards they have to teach in order to prepare for the tests but I don’t see how they can afford not to but that’s another story.
Here is one that I don’t remember. A girl came up to me in a restaurant with her family including her parents, husband, and small children. She told me that every Thanksgiving they talk about me and are thankful for me because I taught this girl a lesson about respect in ninth grade. When she was disrespectful to me one morning, I didn’t write an office referral on her. Instead, I called her parents. This surprised her because I didn’t even know her, yet she felt I showed her that she was important to me by taking the time to call home. I didn’t know that at the time, she was having a lot of problems, and this little action really helped to turn her around because she thought no one cared about her and felt invisible. I really hadn’t ever seen her since that incident and here she was all grown up and looking great. It humbled me to know that they still talk about me after all these years and give thanks for my small entry into their lives. It really woke me up to the little things we do as teachers that we don’t realize may have a bigger impact on these students that we may never know.
I love having conversations with former students to see what stands out in my career. Now is the time for those teaching to think about how you want to be remembered. What do you hope that these students will say to you? How will you know that you’ve been successful when you look back and talk to these students?