I just returned from a long postponed visit to the high school where I began teaching in 1980. After reviewing the staff roster, I did not see a single teacher who was still there back when I started teaching as a fresh-faced newbie. I was expecting that, of course. Almost 30 years had passed; a whole career in a blink.
Thanks to Facebook, several students from those days recently contacted me. The word got out that I was online and approachable. Most online conversations that followed were of the “What have you been up to?” or “Here’s what I’ve been doing” variety.
Most were genuinely pleasant to read. Students enjoyed reflecting on their high school life. Some sad stories emerged of lives damaged by drugs; some successes emerged also. There were medical doctors, editors, pilots, software engineers, musicians, and a television personality in the ranks of my former students.
Some letters were repentant, their writers apologizing for being disrespectful as students. I recall one of them who used to slouch back in his chair every time the national anthem played. He has a career now building models for the military. “Sir,” he wrote, “if I knew then what I know now I would have been a much better student.”
Standing in the halls of that building, I realized the school was just a shell. It was the canvas, the atmosphere, the background hum to a shared human experience.
My students shared with me the memories of their friends, their successes, their loves, the assemblies, games, trips, and fun. They recalled the struggles in the classroom but not the details of the struggles. They left the school stronger and more complete people than they were when they entered.
One student, the editor of the yearbook two decades ago, now an editor for a Canadian publishing house, invited me over for tea on hearing of my trip. As we sat and poured over the yearbooks we had worked on, she showed her daughter a photo of herself and an impossibly young version of me saying, “There I am with my favorite teacher.”
The years have swept all evidence of me away from the halls, as they will sweep us all away, but I know I have made an impact and left an impression on at least a few students. That has to be one of the greatest signs of success in our careers.
I strongly recommend you take your own nostalgia tour someday – when you’re ready. Such tours are not for the faint of heart.