Putting the finishing touches on my classroom on Friday afternoon, I looked up to see him filling my doorway.
"You don't remember me, do you?" he asked.
And in a moment, I did.
He was much taller, his hair was much thicker and curlier, but in his face, I saw the kindergarten boy he once was.
When I said his name, his smile grew, astonished I remembered. I went to hug him.
"I've been looking for you for years," he said.
He told me he doesn't get into trouble anymore- he's matured. I think back to when he punched a first grade teacher in the eye as a new kindergarten student. That year, he was in trouble all the time.
It was the year in teaching that made me doubt myself and my ability to effectively manage a classroom. The room was full of little people with big needs. A child who would run out of the classroom in a manic state; another child who could not get along with peers and would spit and fight over every crayon or spot in line; a class full of kids who did not respond when you called their names- I had to explicitly teach them to look up at me when I said their names. A year where your challenges were so many that you felt like a hamster on a wheel- getting nowhere, yet working so very hard.
But he'd been looking for me for years. I have thought of him through the years as well. Some names and faces fade from my memory, as I've been teaching now for 15 years, yet others remain unforgettable. This boy, I remember.
I showed him pictures of my children. He sheepishly said he could not pronounce my new name and was it okay to call me Miss Neagle? Of course it was, I said, with a smile.
He has a little sister now, he told me, and she will be in this school. I said how nice it would be to see him when he visits her and I hope he comes by to say hello. He starts his sophomore year in high school in a couple of days.
All of this happened a couple of days after I had my own reunion with a teacher. On a playdate with my son Alex, the great uncle of the little boy we were visiting appeared. My memory fired up- that voice, the familiar figure- it had to be....I asked, "Were you a teacher?" He had been my biology teacher in my freshman year of high school. Over 23 years ago...yet I remembered him almost instantly.
And so, as I am about to start my 15th year in education, I think of these stories as proof that teachers live on in the memory of their students, long after your last day together. We remember our teachers, our students remember us. What a responsibility to be the adult that shapes a class full of learners for one year of their schooling...to know that you will forever be the answer when someone asks, "Who was your third grade teacher?"
They will remember. I carry this in my heart, knowing what I do today must be full of joy, passion, and purpose. Each day, each student...it all counts.
Wishing everyone the best school year!