Saturday, July 24, 2010

What's It All About?

Summer is half over; I'm newly retired but still dreaming about schools. A friend, five years into her retirement, told me these dreams will probably continue for awhile. I'm sure she's right because she knows a lot of things. Recently, she shared an experience with me that was not only awesome but also exemplifies exactly why we went into the teaching profession. What happened to, or for, her makes me so proud of my friend (let's call her Jane) and of all the good teachers I have known!

Jane worked in an economically depressed urban area for almost four decades. She loved her students and often confided her concerns to me. Students had emotional problems, uninvolved parents, poor nutrition, lagging skills. The school had security issues, overcrowded classrooms, lacked supplies, and even had some burnt out teachers. Not Jane. She seemed to work harder to compensate for all the deficiencies around her. She got more degrees, matured, and continued to love her students and give them the best educational and experiential foundation she could provide. Jane prepared her classes for field trips, photographed their school adventures, amassed collections of ideas and activities, and shared her love and knowledge before gifting her students to their next teacher.

Over the years, Jane saw many programs come and go in her urban school system. Some were good and some were... not. She went "with the flow" but fought for the things she knew were most important for her students. After decades of hard work and emotion, Jane thought it was time to retire from her profession. She was proud of the work she'd done, the things she'd accomplished, and her school was sad to see her go. Jane's story doesn't sound so unusual, does it? She's a true and dedicated professional. Most of us who are or were teachers probably recognize something of ourselves in Jane.

Now, enter the awesome magic that all of us wish for and only some of us actually experience. A group of Jane's students found each other on Facebook. Let's hear it for social media! Their class was one in the early years of Jane's career but their love of that time together and Jane's impact on their lives was never forgotten. Using Facebook, these students arranged a reunion. Several of them called Jane to make sure she welcomed the idea. Of course she did! After crying over their touching memories they decided on a date. There were young (?) men and women at the reunion. (Jane remarked that they were all older now than she was when she taught them!) Their own careers and lives had taken diverse paths, from the military to plumbing, but they all shared a love for Jane and for their time in her classroom. Some of their classmates took wrong turns and were remembered with sadness. But this core of people were changed by their teacher. They were changed by her love for them and her love for teaching them. They reveled in the photograph album Jane had preserved from so long ago. They even took photos of the photos so they could keep their remembrances alive and vivid. Jane made a difference in their lives and now they were making a difference in hers.

For every Jane in education there are many more of us who won't experience a fond reunion with students. Deep in our hearts, though, we must know that we touched many lives in good ways and we are remembered fondly for doing so. Let's all celebrate the "Jane Moment," students and teachers alike. It's what teaching is all about.