After Thanksgiving, I went into a bit of hibernation. Work and responsibilities at home don’t stop when I need downtime, so I’ve backed off in other areas where I have more control — which is why I’ve been a bit quiet for a week. My poor little blog hasn’t gotten much attention at all. But it came looking for me, so I’m back.
The Christmas season started for us this past weekend when we attended two holiday concerts. The first was the annual holiday concert for the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. This has become an annual tradition. Held at the majestic Paramount Theater in Oakland, the music resonates in every fiber of your soul. It’s how I know that the holidays have started. This year, I was especially emotional through so many songs. Could it be that next Christmas we’ll be waiting for both our girls to come home for Christmas? There are looming shadows of that empty nest. Or maybe I was just tired and so my body responded, without filters, to ever chord. Maybe tears are the way the soul tells you it’s listening.
The next night, we went to the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus annual holiday show and were entertained with stunningly beautiful music and raucous, vaudevillian acts. 90 minutes just isn’t long enough when you’re enjoying something that much. If you haven’t heard them yet and you’re in the Bay Area, I hope they have a show you can see.
This past fall, both groups went on their Lavender Pen Tour of the South, bringing a compelling message of love, joy, and inclusion to many “red” states. We heard it was life-changing; I only wish I could have followed them from state to state, like a groupie!
So this morning, as I trudged out to the kitchen for coffee in my robe and slippers, I was already so grateful for this bounty of music, still echoing in my heart. I opened my laptop and that’s when I received my first gift of Christmas.
As I scanned my email, I found one that was sent through WordPress. Whoever this was found me through my blog. At first, I wasn’t sure I knew this person, but it quickly became clear that she knew me.
She had been a student, in my sixth grade class, 23 years ago. She wrote because someone asked her if there was a teacher who left an imprint on her heart and touched her life. She said that teacher was me. Me. In fact, she attributed her career as an elementary teacher to me. Reading that overwhelmed me. Writing about it just now, brought up all those feelings again.
At first, I wasn’t sure I could remember her. Then, as I hit send on my grateful reply, I saw her maiden name and my memory of her came roaring back. She was one of those kids you remember. She sent me a picture of her Christmas card and there she was. Her hair was darker now (and for the record, mine is considerably more gray), but there she was. Of course, I remember Diane.
One memory in particular came into clear view. We were in the middle of our unit on Ancient Greece and getting ready for our Ancient Greek Museum — or maybe it was our performance of Greek Mythology? Using their history books as references, the kids were creating life-sized replicas of ancient Greek art. We moved all the desks out of the way, and each group had a large piece of butcher block paper and tempera paints. The class was humming. As I passed Diane’s group, she raised her hand. They were painting the Greek Fisherman and had some concerns. Diane wanted to know if they had to draw “all the parts.” I chuckled and we agreed that her group could paint a neutered fisherman and it would be ok.
Diane reminded me, in her email, that she and one or two other students had attended my Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony and that made it clear who this email was from. She now lives about an hour and a half away from here with her family. She has two beautiful, young children and, ironically, is about the same age I was when I was her teacher.
I’ve been thinking a lot about karma lately. My father always used to say “what goes around, comes around.” I think he meant that more as a warning — but for me, I am so intrigued by the notion that what you put out into the world, comes back to you eventually. At my age, I’ve seen that bear out more than once or twice, but not always when it comes to teaching.
If you teach, you know that we don’t always hear back from our students. Teaching really is like tossing a pebble into a lake and we don’t necessarily see the ripples that span out from the center — yet this is why we teach. We have faith that there are ripples, that we’ve touched someone’s heart, and that we’ve made a difference. We have to always keep that at our center, because we don’t teach for the accolades (or the money or the prestige, as hard as that is to believe — ahem). We teach because the future matters, and we’re ok with not knowing the end of each story — or even how each story unfolds. That we get to know a little bit about each student and their story, that we can grow their thinking for a year, is enough.
Teaching middle school is to hold kids’ hearts and nurture their minds through often tumultuous times, times our students would more often like to forget. How many of us want to remember middle school? I’m sure I’d like to forget most of it.
So how lucky are teachers when we find out that someone remembered? How lucky are we when someone reaches out and lets us know that our teaching mattered?
So thank you, WordPress, for delivering my first gift of Christmas. It was really something special.