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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Story Continues

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.

4 comments:

Tara said...

I used to teach, too, and really enjoy running into (most of) my former students and to either be surprised or not suprised about where they are in life. I'm glad you were able to connect with your former student!

I was single when I was teaching so wasn't infertile (well I didn't know I was) and I actually was glad to not have kids to go home to at the end of the day because I was so exhausted. :) And I am glad that as an infertile I no longer teach--I am not sure how teachers do it. Not only does it seem like an inflexible job to have while trying to cycle, but being with the kids and running into the parents...ugh. I have sympathy on all infertile teachers.

Anonymous said...

I'm still in the teaching trenches and I totally agree -- it is such a difficult job anyway and then you add infertility and cycling on top and it just become impossible. Maybe that is why I am having such a mental break-down. It is good to know that I am not crazy and that others have the same feelings about teaching and their students (and former students) that I do!

mary said...

I'm the teacher who cries the last day of school (almost) every year. I have taught 1st grade for 8 years and this year I took my class up to 2nd grade. I love these kids so much and I know it is returned. The days when one or the other of them slips and calls me "mom" brings me to the edge of tears. I also cry at almost every play, concert, etc. watching the proud parents and wondering if it will ever be my child up there. At least I know if I never have children of my own, I will have influenced and nurtured more children then I can count.

C said...

I've only been teaching for a month and already I don't know how I'm going to say goodbye to some of my students when they graduate in May. I don't know if they realize how big an impact they make on our lives.