This week I got one of those reminders about what a blessing it was to be a teacher. I got the opportunity to visit with a former student, now forty years old, who I had the privilege of teaching more than twenty-five years ago.
It is not uncommon for these reunions to still happen as I still live in the same city in which I taught. As any teacher can tell you, catching up with an old student never gets old. It is one of the delayed rewards of teaching to discover what our former students are up to now.
I was not surprised to learn that he was doing well in his chosen career; he was a smart, personable kid. Not only was it a kick to hear what was happening with him, but he also reminded me of things about being in the class that I had long since forgotten. We shared a few laughs and made plans to get together the next time he is in town.
One of the things that made an impression on me was how quickly he rattled off his teachers from kindergarten through sixth grade. It reminds me of the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” While I remember some of my elementary teachers, some years are blank for me. I don’t know if that says more about those teachers or a guy with a failing memory.
One of the secrets about teaching is that the teacher/student relationship is mutually beneficial. While teachers are hopefully teaching their students academic, moral, and life lessons, our students are also making a significant impression on us. I was inspired each year by students from my class.
The world is an imperfect place, but I have faith in this generation and the next one because I have seen them in action. They are smart, kind, compassionate, and hopeful. Sure, they make mistakes, but so did we. Part of education is learning from those missteps.
For those teachers who are about to embark on another school year, let me remind you that for all of the challenges and hard days you will no doubt experience, there are also going to be moments of celebration and joy. Some child is going to succeed because of you. One of your students is going to believe in himself or herself because of you. You are going to tip the scale and make a difference between the child who stays in school or drops out. What an enormous responsibility and privilege!