This is a cross-post. The audio version of this post, aired Monday, August 4, 2014, is available here, at Vermont Public Radio.
A couple of years ago, I faced a teacher milestone. One of my students died, someone I'd visited and emailed and laughed with in the weeks and days before his death, and I was at a loss as to how to deal with the odd, not quite parental, not quite friend-shaped hole. In the days after Andrew's death, I wrote,
When I had children, I understood that I was opening myself up for a world of pain; that's part of the deal we make with the universe when we become parents. However, when I signed my first teacher contract, there was no clause for heartache; no asterisk denoting the fine-print possibilities.
That day, I drew on the presence of the students in front of me to fill up the hole created by the loss of Andrew.
Happily, for each one of those horrible days, there have been so many others that overflow their bounds with happiness. As happens when a teacher's life goes on, there are marriages, births, graduations, and career milestones taking place all the time, it seems. With a decade of students out there in the world, it's bound to happen. I have teacher-grandbabies around the world, and I watch their growth on my Facebook feed like some kind of desperate, doting, distant Nana.
Today, however, is special even among all those other, wonderful days. Today, two of my students are married, and as much as I love them individually, I am doubly enamored of their united form.
I once asked Kira, the female half of this couple, when she first had an inking that Min was more than simply a classmate and friend, and she revealed that it happened in my classroom. I'm paraphrasing, as it's been years since she told me this story, but we were working on a project I love, a visual representation of the storm in King Lear. Kira said she watched Min present his project in all its brilliance and insightful interpretation, and she just knew. Knew he was something special.
Fourteen years later, she still knows, and while I was not able to attend their wedding yesterday, I was there, with them, all day long.
Today, I'm planning the lesson for a class I will teach on Wednesday about writer's toolboxes and what Stephen King calls "business English." My students today are the same age Min and Kira were when they created their Lear projects, and while I have no illusions that about marriages germinating among lessons on parts of speech and sentence structure this Wednesday (I'm not teaching Emma, after all), I do hope something of Kira's epiphany persists in every class I teach.
If I do my job right, and I help each kid see something special and good in themselves, others will see it, too.
I said it once*, and I'll say it again:
The students may change, but the waters remain the same. I'm hip-deep in this river, and I'm staying. No matter what the water brings my way, drawn downstream, to drift out of sight.
Photo credit: Kira DelMar