Yesterday afternoon, while a club was gathered in my classroom, a student walked in to find someone who was at the meeting. The student was tall, lanky, wearing glasses and a dark baseball cap. I watched him walk across the room to talk to his friend before I turned my attention back to my computer.
A few minutes later, as the student walked towards the door, he stopped at my desk.
“Hi, Mrs. Ebarvia.”
I looked up.
“It’s been a long time.” He smiled.
And in that moment, I recognized my former 9th grade student. “Hi, there.”
After spending 180+ days together in class, my students and I part ways every June. What’s odd to me is what happens after that. Despite spending so much time together the year before, I rarely see them again. I do get several students again when they are juniors in another class that I teach (which is always nice) and there’s also that handful of former students whose schedules align themselves such that we’re in the hallways at the same time. But strangely enough, the vast majority of students I have as 9th graders often leave my room never to be seen again.
Such was the case with the young man who stood before me yesterday afternoon. The thing is, even though I hadn’t seen him in two years, I sometimes found myself thinking about him, wondering how he was doing. Last year, I checked in with his 10th grade English teacher every once in a while to ask how he was doing. As a 9th grader, he was the type of student who was always a little lost, often disheveled, and a bit awkward. He loved to read, but he struggled with writing. Entire classes would go by where he would remain quiet, and then suddenly he’d quietly raise his hand and offer one of the most insightful and mature observations our class had had in weeks. He was the type of student I always felt like I couldn’t quite reach, even as I tried my best to let him know that I saw and appreciated him. He was the type of student who could slip through the cracks, even while he awkwardly gave out chocolate kisses for Valentine’s Day to all his teachers.
We talked for a few minutes yesterday. I asked him about his classes, what he was reading, how his year was going. In so many ways, he was still the awkward 9th grader he was when I had him, but he was also more. He talked sincerely and earnestly about the books he recently enjoyed (A Long Way Gone and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time). His favorite unit of the year so far was the journey study they did of the Odyssey. He was all grown-up, at least half a foot or so taller than he was a few years ago, and he carried himself with enough confidence to make a noticeable difference. I wonder if I had ever passed him the hallways and not recognized him enough to say hello. I hoped not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how he stopped to catch up with me yesterday. He didn’t have to do that. Goodness knows that there are plenty of students who will walk right by teachers, pretending the last year in your classroom never happened.
But this student? He did stop. And I’m so thankful that he did.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.