Some might think that teachers spend one year with students, and then the relationship ends for both student and teacher. I knew that is true for some, but for many teachers, we hold onto those bonds with our students for a lifetime.
I’m grateful to live in the same city I taught, and I frequently run into former students on my travels. I even taught some of my students’ children over the last few years of my career. One of the most mind-blowing aspects of teaching was to hold a parent-teacher conference with a parent who used to be one of my students.
It’s such a kick for me to find out what happened to my students. Are they married? Do they have children of their own now? I know it won’t be that many years before some of my students have grandchildren. What career path did they choose? Did any become teachers themselves? I take special pride in that. I even had the great fortune to teach with one of my former fifth-grade students in the last few years of my career. How cool is that?
When these planned or chance encounters happen, I treasure them. I still occasionally get a letter from one of my students telling me about something exciting happening in their life. I’ve attended birthday parties, graduations, weddings, housewarming parties, and more. I’ve hired past students to work for me. There are few better feelings in life than watching a former pupil succeed in life.
This raises the question of what defines success? I think it’s different for everyone, but happiness must enter the equation somewhere. Some may think of it as making lots of money and having many material possessions, but I believe the bar should be higher than that. Success to me means making a positive difference in the world somehow. The trick is for each of us to find our path in achieving that. It could mean being a good parent, volunteering with organizations that are doing important work, cleaning up your city, painting a mural, or the hundreds of other creative ways that we can help those in our community. One of the secrets I’ve discovered is that I’m happiest when helping others because it makes me feel good about myself.
Being a former educator, I value literacy. I joined the Humboldt County Children’s Author Festival Committee after I retired. This organization helps bring nationally known children’s authors to our local schools biennially to talk to kids about their books and writing. Children see these authors and illustrators and think, “I could do that too.” Since I’m writing children’s novels in retirement, it was a natural fit for me. Right now, I’m the only male on the approximately twenty-five-person committee, but that doesn’t bother me in the least.
Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of seeing two of my former students on the same day. First, I had breakfast with Veronica, who I taught in 4th grade. She is married with three daughters. I’m proud of her because she has an important job working with the developmentally disabled. I know she is a tremendous advocate for them because she is that type of person. Veronica’s oldest daughter is Juliana, now a college student. I felt privileged to teach Juliana for part of 2nd grade before her family moved out of the school district. I remember her as being intelligent and mature for her age.
Later in the day, I dropped by and visited Mychal in town at his informational campaign gathering. He is running for Humboldt County Auditor/Controller in the upcoming election. I admire his desire to try and make a difference in our community by serving the public. It takes courage to run for public office, and I am happy to see that he is up to the challenge. I had the opportunity to teach Mychal for two years in fourth grade and then again two years later in sixth grade. He was a great all-around student. It meant a lot to me when he came by to my book signing at our old elementary school a few years back, and the least I could do was to return the favor.
These encounters are what I call the delayed rewards of teaching. Watching children grow into responsible adults is the best. I’ve always looked at education as an investment in the future. How wonderful to see some of that investment come to fruition!