I gave her another hug. “Congratulations! I’m so proud of you! What a wonderful promotion.”
“I miss you,” she said plaintively. “So does R. We talk about you all the time.”
Now *this* is surprising to me because he is the student to whom I wrote my first apology note for colluding with racism in my classroom. I blogged about this last year (See "Writing apologies for racist classroom actions").
This was a good reminder to me that we really have no idea how long or how deep our impact and reach as teachers will go. Now I know I need to find my way over to his Taco Bell / KFC Store to touch in with him.
I asked, “So where are you going to school next year?”
Her face fell. “I’m going to City College. I got rejected from all my schools.”
I hugged her again. “That’s OK. City College is awesome. You will go there for two years and transfer to the UCs or CSUs. This isn’t a defeat — it is only a setback. You are going to get where you need to go and you are going to do great. I believe in you.”
“I miss you so much,” she replied, wrapping her arms around me again.
This was all a good reminder for me. Sometimes our most important job as teachers is to show up and to be adults in their lives who are as not-full-of-shit as we can possibly be for them. We provide some much-needed continuity as adults — continuity that can be lost to them when a parent dies or moves away or goes to prison for an extended term. It is so important for all kids to have lots and lots of adults in their lives who love them in our own unique ways. We help to witness their suffering and to encourage their courage. As I write this right now, my heart hurts for her. I know how much she wanted an elite college and how disappointed she must be feeling. But I also know and believe in her unique giftedness and heroism, and I am grateful that I got a chance today to witness and reflect that back to her at a moment when she really needed it.
I will keep showing up at the farmer’s market and at KFC and believing in them both because that is an essential part of my work and my calling as a teacher. And even though Bill Gates and Arne Duncan are utterly clueless about this essential part of my work as a teacher, I will continue under all circumstances anyway. It is a great gift to get to be guerrilla bodhisattvas in our students’ lives, just as our teachers were for us.
And so I wanted to document and honor this unspoken, unappreciated, unmeasured, and undervalued part of our work as teachers on this Earth. May we all continue to be present with an open heart for all our students everywhere throughout space and time.