I do my best to say at the end of every class “Love you! Mean it!” And I do mean it. My students are strings of cells coursing through my blood, lifting my spirits, giving my heart the strength to beat at the end of a long bad day.
Students move on. I expect that. Teaching seniors, I am used to my students moving beyond my classroom and into a world that is beautiful and dangerous. I inhabit my quiet corner, do my best, and return to my quiet corner to sleep.
Friday, I received a gorgeous email from a former student, Alex, the subject of “It’s The Quiet Ones You Have To Watch” (or something like this), emailed me. He wrote to me a lovely paragraph in which he talked about the legacy of the books I had taught, talked about how everywhere he goes, what I have taught follows him. He ended with telling me that I was an influential teacher.
I nearly cried until my inner Tom Hanks shouted “There’s no crying in high school.” I wrote back to Alex, promised him I’d gladly serve as a reference for him.
The day closed on terrible news, information I can not share. But it was darkness that surrounded me and I walked through a muddled haze, doing my best to find the quiet I craved.
Saturday, I ran. For seven long, hard miles, I ran through trails with my new dog, Leia, until, finally, she started bucking against the collar, ran three feet behind me when, last week, she literally ran circles around me and nearly popped my shoulder out of the socket. I wanted to run nine, thought I could run nine. Today, my hips ache and tell me that, no, nine was likely not going to happen. So I’ll take my ibuprofen and drink my water and start counting my calories again tomorrow and rededicate myself to my weight loss goals and my milage goals.
Tomorrow is always another day.
But today, today the bad news of Friday was not as bad as it was on Friday, for which I am incredibly grateful. Today, I traveled to a Civil War site with my Beloved and Leia and we walked around earthworks and watched a cannon fire twice and read about the battles that were waged, the terrible loss of life.
I stood on the horizon of a world that died one hundred and fifty years ago. I stared into a grassy void and envisioned the men standing on its edge, blood and smoke mixing into a toxic brew.
And then, I came home to Facebook that I keep forgetting to check, and found a message from Kayla, another former student.
She had responded to a prompt in a collegiate education class, writing about her “greatest teacher ever.” And as my dilapidated Mac opened the document, I read my name. My name.
With the word “greatest.”
I do not deserve such kindness.
I go to school exhausted, the rings under my eyes so dark I look sometimes like I have been beaten. I am human and snarky sometimes. Once, I even said something rather snipey at Kayla. And I still regret it.
But I still try to do my best. And I really do love my students. Not because I’m a teacher. Not because I’m a mother. But because they are such wonderful people. I see them tutoring one another. I see them work together for the greater goodness of the world. Even though the news is haunted with reports of protests and angry Tweets, my classroom is inhabited by a couch, some silly stuffed animals, and students who give me such kindness that I sometimes can not breathe.
I have my line, my “Love you! Mean it!” I thought it was my line and my line only. Until a member of Kayla’s class emailed me with a picture of a pair of socks with “Love Ya! Mean it!” on them.
For eighteen months, I wanted those socks but didn’t buy them. In some weirdly abstract way, I hoped someone would read my mind and buy them for me. But, no, my mind was not an open book and last November when I bought the Girl her “Hellraiser” socks, I found my “Love Ya! Mean it!” socks.
And without thought, I ordered them in spite of their nearly twenty dollar cost. Yeah, they’re expensive. And they’re rather thin and will likely rip and tear much sooner than I would like.
However, it also makes for great laughter when I kick off my clogs and tell my students that not only do I really love them and mean it, but I can prove it as well.
I love my students. I love my job. And for a while, I questioned staying where I was. But in the last eighteen months, since I moved to a new position, I finished my rite of passage and found that my road still leads to my classroom. I know where I belong. And so long as I have the right socks, I know that I will be fine.
By the way, thank you Kayla. Love you! Mean it!