former students

In last week’s Friday Five, I mentioned that there were a number of students for whom I would “put my hand in the fire.” One of the amazing things about teaching high school is forming relationships with the students. They’re almost–but not quite–grown-ups and they are pulling away from their parents, but still looking for authority figures to whom they can relate. And in teaching English with a literature emphasis (something that was going by the wayside when I quit, but it’s still there at least somewhat), one gets to discuss some of the really important questions that are teeming in these kids’ heads. That is teaching at its best. And teachers need to be careful not to abuse that authority and not to gain their self-worth by how well students like them or how many groupies they have, but that’s another issue. I was a pretty under-the-radar teacher, but I had a few students each year who, for whatever reason, just really made everything better.

When I wrote my Friday Five, I was thinking specifically of two students I had my last year teaching high school. These students and I connected, immediately and deeply. And one became an English teacher and the other is working on her M.Div. at Harvard Divinity School, so they were very much students after my own heart. But then as I thought a little longer, I realized that they weren’t the only ones. Not by any means. There’s the cartoonist in San Francisco and the student who just received her masters in–maybe forensic psychology, not positive–and the navy wife and the one with a baby a few months older than Squeak, and so on. And most of these students have found me on Facebook and so I am able to keep up with them. And it’s a lot of fun to see where life had led/is leading them.

Given that I don’t think I should measure my self-worth by the number of former students who are my Facebook friends and I don’t want to be a creepy internet stalker teacher, I have tried to let students find me. I broke my rule a couple times at the beginning because there were a couple students I had been in contact with, but had lost most recent address/email address and I didn’t think they would mind. And a couple times, I made an overture without making the friend request and was gratified to receive that request. So I’m not entirely innocent, but mostly I’ve tried to let them take the initiative.

But, in thinking about students the last few days, I started getting really curious about one particular student. She was one of those students who pretty much had it all–beauty, brains, and talent–but you couldn’t dislike her because she was super nice, too. And she was one of the first students with whom I really felt a connection, one of the first students with whom I would wander by her desk and end up chatting about life and deeper things. So I finally gave in to my own curiosity, found her through another student’s friends’ list, and sent the request. She accepted and it turns out she is still beautiful and smart and talented and nice. Evidently she just got back from Africa, a mission trip of some sort I presume, and if I’m understanding the internet info right, she and her family live in the inner city and her husband works in an inner city youth program. So. Wow. I’m a little bit in awe.

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