Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo
I met a former student at a bookstore the other day. He was the first batch of kids I ever taught. He and his classmates were about 16 when I met them. I had just graduated college and was only a couple or so years older. There were moments when I would be in their classroom thinking to myself: “What on earth could I possibly teach these kids when I’m barely an adult myself?” But I persevered and, with a lot of support from my colleagues and a lot of patience from the students themselves, I survived that first year.
That had been 10 years ago. But there we were 10 years later—in front of the young adult section where I was picking out my next leisure reading and he came up to me and asked me how I was. There are some kids whose faces get lost in the crowd of the hundred and fifty or so new faces that come into the picture every year. Kids, who take me a little while to remember. But he was not one of those kids. I knew him. And I didn’t need long to come up with very vivid memories of him in my class. And so we talked about the usual things that adults talk about—where he was working and how he was doing. I asked him if he was married yet as I’d heard some of his batchmates were and he asked me why I wasn’t. And then we talked about books—me about the young adult books that I read and him about self-help business books.
And then it dawned on me that were it not for the fact that he still kept referring to me as “Miss,” no one could tell that he’d once been my student and I’d been his teacher. He was as much an adult as I was—a full-fledged, working, tax-paying (I hope), productive member of society capable of marrying, owning property, suing someone (not that I wished this on him) and starting his own business. He knew so much more than I ever did when I first started teaching him.
He told me he regretted not reading as much when he was in high school—that he took it for granted and how now, he makes a habit of doing a bit of voluntary reading every day. I wish I could take credit for that. I wish I could take credit for anything he did, really. But the truth is, the longer I teach the more I realize that although every teacher dreams that she or he is the one person a child can pinpoint as the one who made a difference in their lives, no one can actually claim that in all honesty. Because the truth is, it takes a village to raise a child. The most a teacher can ever claim is to be a part of that village.
So as he left me standing there, staring at a bunch of books that no longer seemed appealing at all, I felt a wave of emotions wash over me—joy for the unexpected meeting, hope for him, as well as all the other former students that I don’t always get to meet and well—gratitude that I belong to a profession where success is not measured by how much I earn or how much I achieve but by the opportunities I get for sharing the lives of those under my care.