I met up with a former student today. The last time I’d seen her she was seventeen and I was twenty-five. Out of the blue a few weeks ago she sent me an email reminding me of our time together in an English Literature class I taught at Hood River Valley High …in 1995. She is teaching now in the same district where I work and she’d spotted my name in some district something or other and reached out to say hello. It was amazing.
We figured out that I’d be over at her school for a district meeting a couple of weeks later, and I planned to swing up to her classroom afterward. The meeting ended early, so I walked upstairs and was guided to her room, empty, but with its door open, sunlight streaming in, a welcoming place. I went inside and looked around. Her Billie Holiday poster on the wall reminded me of the classroom we’d shared twenty five years ago (and a poster of Miles Davis I had over my desk). The student work on the wall, personal photos, and a glowing lamp in the corner made the room feel comfortable and kind.
I was alone long enough to remember just how young I’d been when I taught in Hood River, and how old I am now. The pictures around her desk told me my student looked amazingly the same, but somewhere in the past quarter century I’ve gone from looking like Captain Kirk to Captain Picard.
And then, as I was thinking about that English Literature class, my first teaching job and one whose lessons I still carry with me, the successes as well as failures, she stepped into the room.
Too seldom do we as educators get to hear from our students. More seldom still are the opportunities to really connect with them as adults and see the people they have become. Today moved me as I got to do just that.
We talked, reminiscing for a few deep and rich minutes before falling into the easy conversation shared by educators and parents everywhere. We both have eleven year olds and teenagers at home, and both share a positive world view rooted in kindness and a profound desire to make a difference.
I’m a gentleman, so I’ll keep the details of our conversation out of this post, but I can say that I left feeling anything by old; our conversation left me renewed. Here was a strong young woman who not only overcame adversity, but who is positively impacting kids every day. With humor and grace she navigated life over the quarter century since I’d last seen her and emerged with a positive perspective and profound power to make a difference. She does.
She certainly made a difference to me as she remembered a couple of instances from that English Lit class, and then told me (smiling and pointing to some notes one the whiteboard at the front of her room) that she’d even used Mary Wollstonecraft in her lessons on the Enlightenment.
Wollstonecraft was a favorite of mine (particularly when used to set up future discussions on Virginia Woolf) in that class in 1995, and it was a mixture of pride and joy that made me laugh aloud when my former student told me that she’d introduced Wollstonecraft to her own students by comparing her in the Enlightenment to a woman at Star Trek convention: “Yes, there is a girl here! You should listen to her.”
The same, I thought, could be said of my former student, now the teacher, doing important work with high schoolers every day.
“I was just young and foolish back then,” I admitted to her as we talked. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
“I thought that,” she told me. “Afterward,” she added, smiling. “Not when you were teaching us, but later.” Another shared connection between two educators.
Mary Wollstonecraft, that woman at a Star Trek convention, wrote: “Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by time.” It had been too long since I got to talk with my former student, but seeing her again erased that time, and made our conversation feel to me like one between two old friends.