When I was a teacher, this was a bittersweet time of year. Spacious summer days were diminishing to the daily routine circumscribed by hourly school bells and small boxes in a big book of lesson plans reduced further to prescribed goals, but balanced by the excitement, love, and mystery generated by discovering unique teacher-student relationships and the prospect of a wide-open new year of traveling together in our learning.
I sensed this meeting of beginnings and endings in my husband’s energy as he bustled to complete house and garden projects before rejoining his faculty this past week.
I already miss Phillip’s constant easy presence and the time for spontaneous adventures we’ve enjoyed during his summer break, and sometimes I miss teaching…not the endless meetings or the mind-numbing impediments bureaucrats use to block the profession’s creativity and growth, but the intimacy of relationships, the give and take, the teaching and learning and surprises each year brought.
One of the lovely gifts derived from my many years of teaching has been the joy of watching my former students blossom into maturity, becoming parents, professionals, and compassionate adults. Many of them e-mail me, or let me know through social media how they’re doing and I’m always happy to hear from them.
Then, there’s Kate.
Kate has always been more than a student to me…she stole my heart even before she entered my classroom. At this time, I worked at a small school, grades K-8, and we had the luxury of watching students “grow up,” knowing their families, and forming strong teacher-student-parent relationships.
One day I was outside, monitoring the playground during the noon hour, and Kate arrived at my side, a curious, opinionated, funny, and bright 7-year-old. Some kismet brought us together. I was charmed, and although professional discretion was always honored between us, she somehow became one of those happy students who visited my classroom after school to tell me about her day, or share her ideas about books, or films. I can’t even remember now if I left that teaching position before she was actually my student, or if I served as her teacher when she began middle school.
At some point as she finished middle school, Kate began writing me e-mails, updating me about her learning and life as a student, and we kept up this correspondence through her high school and college years. Occasionally, we’d meet for lunch, or go on an adventure, and I’ll always remember her kindness in visiting my mother at the dialysis center. She’s always seemed a merry “old soul” to me.
Her wonderful parents invited us to Kate’s college graduation party, and I gave her a printed copy of our years of e-mails, chronicling her wonderful development into a mature young woman, one who has since moved to the East Coast and begun her professional career as an editor.
She was home this weekend, and I was deeply touched that she saved a day to visit me.
She is not my daughter, but over the years, Kate has taken up residence in that part of my heart I always reserved for the daughter I’d hoped to have.
It may be, as the proverb states, that when the student is ready, the right teacher will appear, but I count my blessings that one day on a school playground, something in my spirit and heart made me ready to welcome Kate into my life. She has taught me so very much, and I am grateful. The best relationships have this reciprocal flow of learning and teaching between those involved, I think.
So I send my blessing to all teachers as they begin a new school year, especially the dear souls who continue to live out this profession in my home state, where the past few years have brought denigration to their efforts. Budgets and programs are cut, classrooms are overcrowded, collective bargaining is destroyed, and salaries and benefits are precarious.
But you show up. You plan and hope and open the door every morning, welcoming the happy, the sad, the hungry, the lost, the eager and bright…and you supply what you are able, and more. You feed their minds, and their hearts, and their spirits, sometimes at the expense of your own.
I wish you a year of gentle peace, happy surprises, sustained energy, and compassionate relations…and I wish all of you students like Kate, who come to learn, but end up teaching you more about your own journey than you could have expected.