I have received so many responses from former students in the last twenty four hours since yesterday’s post. The notes I wrote. I…
All right, I’m not writing this for reassurance or affirmation. Just writing through some thoughts here…
But I didn’t realize they meant that much to my students.
Each note was possibly three sentences. Maybe four. I really don’t know. I know that I tried to make them personal to each person…sometimes failing.
But they were just ways to tell people that they were(are) important and in case they needed a moment of affirmation, the note was there, a constant reminder of how important each person has been to me.
I never suspected that something as simple as three sentences would be so important. At the same time, I shouldn’t be surprised (God, that sounded really arrogant) given that I have kept every note a student has given me over the years, starting with a young man named Dave. He was in my last collegiate-freshmen level class that I taught at the conclusion of my earning my master’s degree. I remember it was a thank you card. I carried it in my backpack for years with a note I had from my favorite professor. I think both of those notes disintegrated somewhere in the last decade and a half.
Open my top left drawer in my desk in my home office and the notes come springing out. I have a green plastic bin at school. Filled. I have at least another set of notes in another box at school that was in yet another desk drawer. I can’t throw them out. Each note is another stone that I need to carry in my pocket as a reminder that bad days will happen but will be quickly outnumbered by good days.
I’ve written this before. I’ll write this now and I’ll write it again.
My students are what drive me to teach. Not my love for the curriculum. Because as much as I love reading and writing which is why I started teaching, it’s the students who quickly became my focal point. They are the reason I bought class sets of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. They are the reason why I bought class sets of 102 Minutes, so I could make sure each student had his/her own book.
I remember so clearly the day (really, dinner) when I decided to become a teacher. I wanted to become a fantasy writer but my parents were so clear that graduation was in six months and I was not moving back home. I could come and visit them, as a guest. But my tenure as a live-in-dependent had reached it’s end. I was cut free. Mom and Dad kept on nagging me about how I was going to earn money.
“Write,” I told them. Of course, at this point, how much had I published? Hardly anything of note. But I was going to take the world by storm. Just wait and see.
I think the world is still waiting. It’s been twenty-three years and the world is still waiting. That’s okay. I’m writing more now than I ever did back then. And I’m going to keep on writing until the day I die because I can’t stop the need to feel words slip out of my fingers or off the bridge of my tongue.
But I’m getting off topic because I’m writing about writing which is a bit weird….topic…graceless..must stay on topic.
Mom and Dad wanted to know how I was going to earn money.
My sarcastic response, “Write.”
“And how are you going to earn money?”
“WRITE!” This time the sarcasm was just a little stranger (lot stronger).
“And how are you going to earn money while you are writing?”
Steadily, Mom started plugging the idea of me teaching. I would have summers off. I could be like Mrs. Harding, my creative writing teacher, my muse, my role model, my inspiration. I could find the next graceless child and help him/her, keep that graceless child from feeling lost in a world saturated with humanity with glaucomic eyes.
I think Mom intended on me becoming a kindergarten teacher. I also think it was Mom’s way of reaching out and finding grandchildren through me without me getting pregnant (Mom really wanted grandchildren….and I mean REALLY WANTED!). The idea of being a walking-human-Kleen-ex was less than enthralling. If I was going to teach people about reading, it was not going to be “See Jane! See Jane run! Run Jane run!” Who the hell cares that Jane is running? And if she is running, why are we watching and not intervening? Because if she is running, then something must be causing her to run…childhood obesity? A game of Tag? Bullies?
I don’t care that Jane is running. I want to analyze why she is running…what is the moral implication? What are themes? social commentaries? Critical lenses? Yeah…that’s what I’m talking about!
I even dreamed of becoming a collegiate professor. Dr. Graceless. Yup. That was going to be amazing. I would have an office filled with old books and German decorations while playing soft music in the background. Yup. That was the dream. And when I wasn’t holding office hours or leading incredibly amazing discussions (I was going to be the next Mr. Keating from Dead Poet’s Society), I was going to be writing the next amazing fantasy novel.
Some dreams ended. Over the years and meeting my beloved husband and having two amazing children, the doctorate dream has quietly faded. It’s not fully extinguished…just a slow burning ember. The fantasy novel career: shot down and ended. Novel writing career: dreaming brilliantly and about to go through another edit.
But to bring this post back full circle, the first note I ever got from a student was actually a student when I was student-teaching. I can still see her, but her name has become a whisper that I just can’t hear anymore. Then, there was Dave…and the collection started to grow. And will continue to grow because I can’t throw away the stones and the notes my students give me.
I wish I had realized the importance of these notes a long time ago and hadn’t listened to the over-protective-mother-voice in my head that told me that opening my heart and my voice was hazardous to my career. I have so many words that are pent up in my head, so many things I wish I had said to students. Fortunately, I am quite verbose and like to give good-bye speeches at the end of the year.
I guess I just need to start writing earlier in the year too.
Now, where’s my pen?