I took a long break from blogging to work on a book I am writing about teaching. The last school year ended on a high note. I even got a chance to speak during the graduation ceremonies. I stayed away from school all summer, but I returned last week for teacher training. This week, I will work on my classroom and lesson plans. Luckily, my schedule is the same as last year. I will be teaching tenth graders mostly, with one senior class each semester. I love that mix, and I am looking forward to a great year.
Last Tuesday, our first day back, I ran into one of my students from last year. He is a junior now and grew a few inches to better look the part. He was at school for football practice. He and I had a few run-ins last year, but nothing major. I loved his energy and work ethic. He hated writing papers. I remember pulling him out of class once when he refused to follow a directive. After giving him my sternest voice and a brief lecture, I looked him in the eye and said, “You know I love you, right?” The look on his angry face softened, and he nodded “yes.”
Everything worked after that. He is a special young man, and I intend to continue to monitor his progress from afar. When he saw me on the stairs, he stopped and stared for a moment. Then he stretched his arms out wide and said, “I missed you, man.” I smiled, gave him a quick chest bump and said, “I missed you too.”
And I did. All of them in fact. That is the hardest part of teaching, the letting go. Although you never do completely. The week before that, a student I last taught in 2007 approached me on the street near the park by my house. He had locked his keys in his car and wanted to know if I had one of those devices to open the door. “Excuse me, sir,” he said. “I was wondering if you could help me.” I had last seen him in 2009 at his graduation, but he had texted me from college each year to let me know how he was doing. He even sent me a picture of his college graduation attached to a “Thank You” note. I recognized him immediately.
“So you don’t know anybody?” I asked. He looked at me again. I had been bald with a black mustache when he last saw me. Now I had hair and a white beard. “Mr. Roberts?” he asked. Before I could answer, he grabbed me and gave me one of the tightest hugs I have had in a while. He played Division I football and has outgrown his high school frame. We will be having lunch next week, my treat.
Three days ago, I walked into 7-11 and encountered another young man I taught in 2010. He graduated two years ago, and I had not seen him since then. The smile that consumed his face was genuine. He tried college for one year and then took a leave to work on a graphic arts business he wants to start. He gave me one of his business cards and insisted I take his phone number. Before I even arrived home, he had texted me. We chatted about his ambitions and the inevitable obstacles along the way. We promised to never lose touch.
I have one more week before a new crop of fifteen-year-old’s lands in my classroom. They will carry a host of expectations and fears. My job is not only to instruct, but also to uplift. Inevitably, we will learn from each other. Last week’s professional development was all about empowering students, establishing a safe place for growth, and installing Kagan’s Cooperative Learning techniques to help students help each other. I still have to learn to talk a little less and listen a little more. But I think I am ready for it, for them.
Truth be told, I can’t wait.
–Mark E.P. Roberts (teachermandc)