It was close to my bedtime, and I was just reading a few updates on Facebook. A little window popped up. I had no idea that one could chat on Facebook, but apparently she did. It was almost one in the morning on the east coast, but she was still at work, and she decided to reach out and touch someone.
I had not heard from her much in recent years. She has grown older. She has a life filled with work and graduate school and all around making a difference. She organizes conferences and advocates for women. She is in business school now, for what specific aim I am unsure. Like I said, I have not heard from her all that frequently in recent years.
But, once upon a time, we meant a lot to each other. She was in my first ninth grade English class. I was a 23-year-old teacher, sure of myself but in way over my head with five classes and thirty kids to a class. She was smart and hard working and nowhere near as grown-up as the other ninth-grade girls seem to be these days. Mature, yes. Grown-up? Not as much.
We spent fifty minutes together each school day, but we also spent hours together after school. You see, she was a talented actress, possessing a stage presence that belied her young face and pleasing demeanor. I cast her as the lead. She rose to the challenge.
She never asked for an extension on a paper, even if it was due two days before the play in which I was directing her. She rarely earned a grade below A-, and I was not an easy teacher to get an A from. She knocked my socks off, but she also taught me a lot about being a teacher.
She gave me confidence that I could positively influence a young person. She taught me that the things I said in a classroom mattered. She encouraged me to care about my students.
Mine was a one-year appointment, and even though the school offered to extend, I followed J to D.C. when he graduated. I lost touch with most of those students over the years. She and I remained in contact. We talked a lot through her high school and college years, visiting now and then when I was back in Philly. She came to my wedding. She went to an excellent college. Something terrible happened while she was there, but she rose above it. She graduated and went on to own her life in a way a little girl from modest means is not supposed to.
She would probably tell you that I made a huge difference in her life. She is generous like that. I will tell you that she has made a huge difference in mine. I am no longer a teacher; I may never be one again or I may go back. But she taught me that a teacher can do a lot for a young person, and the young person can return the favor.
That’s why my kids’ teachers will never get a scented candle or a coffee mug from me. They will always get the respect they deserve, even if I disagree with them. And I will support them by teaching my kids to treat them right.
She told me the other night as we chatted on Facebook that she reads this blog every day. I didn’t know because she never comments, but it doesn’t surprise me. That’s the kind of support we have always shown each other, even if nowadays she’s too busy changing the world and I am too busy raising kids for us to be in touch very often.
So, leave her a comment, if you would. Or, write a note to a teacher who rocked your world once upon a time. Or, say thank you to your child’s teacher when you drop him off at school. Because together teachers and students are a beautiful thing.