The thing I hated about teaching (beyond the grading and parent-teacher conferences. Oh, and the communication with tutors and the paperwork. And actually everything EXCEPT the lesson plans, teaching, and the kids) was that at the end of the year, my students graduated and left. Poof. We spent around eight hours a day together, nurturing their young minds. And then...nothing.
I taught eighth grade for six years (as well as a year of high school and two years of college). Some left after eighth grade and went to a different school for high school. Some kids stayed at the school and moved into the upper school. I knew what happened to those kids because they either swung by my room and informed me or I knew from speaking to their new teachers in the lounge. What I mean is that I knew what happened to them for the next four years because once they graduated and moved onto college, I only heard about them if they had a younger sibling at the school.
And that's the worst part about teaching. You commit so much of your energy to a person. You spend more waking hours with them than their parents. You listen to them moan about their crushes. Sometimes you help them through a huge life crisis such as the loss of a parent or childhood cancer. You go to their soccer games and basketball games and school plays. You teach them everything you know. And then they leave and you never know the rest of the story. Did they get into college? Did they like it once they were there? Did they go on to get married or have kids or a satisfying career?
Because that's the advantage to being the parent. You get to know the whole story. Or you get a chance to know that whole story (some parents botch this by not actually connecting with their child and knowing their life). Being a teacher is like checking out a really good book from the library and having to return it when you're halfway through the tenth chapter. You're completely invested in the characters but you'll never know how the story ends.
Being an infertile teacher is hard because you recognize this fact every year. You may spend more time with the child than their parents, but you're not the parent. You have to give the kids back at the end of the day. And while they may remember me and tell stories about my classroom to their friends once they're in college, I will sail out of the orbit of their life. And they'll sail out of mine. There are many more students that I've forgotten than ones that I remember.
Which is why it rocked so hard when I heard a small, tentative voice ask, "Melissa?" while I was drinking my white chocolate mocha at Starbucks. It was my student, J, who is now a senior in high school. He told me that he's going to culinary school next year in New York and he came out of the closet this year. He was doing well and working in a restaurant. And I told him about the twins and he thankfully didn't notice the fact that I had Trying Again by Ann Douglas open on the table because...well...that would have opened a conversation that I wasn't exactly prepared to have with a former student.
And it was just so nice. To have an extra chapter of the story. Even if the book is back at the library again.