Ask teachers for their definition of success and invariably they will say that if their students do well in a job or career, start and raise a family, and live a full and satisfying life, they would be proud of what they accomplished. But how do teachers come to know about students once they left school. While some students do stay in touch with teachers after leaving their elementary or secondary school classroom, most do not. Those that do often bring sunshine to their teachers’ day. While students are the centerpiece of classroom teaching, once they leave, memories are all that teachers have. Flashes from past interactions with particular students inside and outside classrooms, fragments of memories and smells stay with teachers.
Decades ago, Ann Staley, an English teacher and poet, was in one of my Stanford University classes. Off and on for the past 35-plus years we have stayed in touch with letters, then email, and occasional visits to her Oregon home. It is a friendship I treasure. She has published at least five volumes of poetry and writes from time to time about a teacher’s life, students, and teaching English.
Staley penned this poem about what she remembers about her years of teaching. It is about her memories of teaching and what matters to her. She has given me permission to publish it.
ONE TEACHER’S TAKE-AWAY
The file of Thank-You notes,
real time letters, phone calls & visits
with former students,
photos from their weddings,
photos of the children’s graduation,
first day of college.
A series of incredible principals,
all men, who somehow “got me,”
appreciated my dedication to the
profession and my students.
How to use the rest room in 3 minutes,
how to supervise a locker clean-out.
Writing with my students every day,in every class (six of them/day)
(180 students per day).
Still friends with my favorite counselor
and her husband, the Superintendent.
Sharing the concepts of “freewriting”
and “focused freewriting” with students
who, first hated, and then learned to love
Reading student journals,
responding to first drafts.
Challenging the Honors Students.
Lunch Time—thirty minutes—
and Fire Drills,
being invited back to teach
“the poetry unit.”
Just last week, in the hospital, the nurse who was assisting me
turned out to be a former student
who remembered me as her “favorite”
Language Arts teacher.
I live in a small town, so it’s relatively easy
to be in touch, to stay in touch, to be reminded
of the years I spent with adolescents who
seemed to be my children. Three thousand of them!
The gifted surprises of former students,
all grown up now.