This last summer I received an unexpected phone call from a former student who graduated …well…a few years ago. My ability to handle time has become tenuous of late; my memory for dates, weaker. Students leave each year and my attention must focus on a new group of non-readers.
But Randy, I distinctly remembered. Randy explained that he was calling to invite me out for lunch because, “You were the only teacher I ever connected with.” He wanted to tell me about his life.
Thirteen years in school and this extremely intelligent, engaging, polite young man had only ‘connected with’ one teacher. I found it incredibly sad to hear that he had come to that conclusion.
Randy arrived at my clinic and helped me into his beautiful sports car. He brought photos of his handsome young son; his lovely home; a very stunning motorcycle. We spent a leisurely lunch discussing his schooling and his recollections of the time spent with me. He expressed that I had done so much to help him develop as a person and as a student. In school he had been very shy, but had begun his working career in a grocery store where he had to communicate with strangers. He now works for a local industry, in a position of responsibility, where his skills and personality are highly respected. He still dreams of becoming an engineer, but has put the rearing of his son, first. As I learned more about Randy’s life, I developed even greater pride in this fine, strong, young man.
Randy had answered my questions about his world, but other questions plagued my mind: Why were there not several teachers with me at that table — receiving the accolades and closure that few teachers ever receive? Why are so many teachers fearful of relating to students? Why do so many teachers view their work with children as jobs rather than as a response to a calling? How did public schooling become that ‘jobs project,’ of which John Taylor Gatto so eloquently speaks, instead of retaining its integrity and insuring the intellectual development of children?
I know that I connected with several teachers, and regret that over the years I lost contact with them. I would welcome the opportunity to take them out to lunch and tell them of the difference they made in my life: Mrs. Herndon, Mr. Eckenrod, Miss Wagstaff, Mr. Ambrose…the list is long, and I thank the Ypsilanti Public School District for the education I received.
I was able to contact my very first teacher — a fine lady who taught me in the one-roomed schoolhouse, but my contact came too late. She was in a nursing home, memory gone, and she surely failed to recognize me. When she passed away, I took a personal day to attend her funeral. The mourners included numerous students, all who had developed under the skilled tutelage of Mrs. Beryl Beaudry, in those years so long ago and so far away.
I had taken along some of our group photos from that country school. The pictures showed Mrs. Beaudry at her best and brought back memories of the vibrant teacher. The pictures helped us to remember her at the height of her career, rather than at the end of her life. The photos were passed around many times at the funeral dinner…and so that time the students were the ones who came to some closure over lunch, instead of the teacher who had contributed so much to all of our lives.
It has often been suggested that one reason for my success in teaching is that I ‘fall in love’ with my students. I suppose that is true. They, like every living thing, blossom best when they are carefully tended. I move about the room straightening collars and patting shoulders for the older kids; tenderly touching noses; kissing the tops of heads, for the younger set. Whether one describes such tending as love, nurture, or simply as making a connection — the difference it makes is obvious. My students know that they are ‘tops in my book.’ With that knowledge as a support, learning cannot help but occur. Thank you, Randy, for helping me to understand the great importance of small gestures.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.