Hundreds of students come in and out of my classroom every year. And after four short years in high school, they are onto the next stage of their lives, whatever that might be. I get a few friend requests on Facebook from former students, but very few relative to the number of students I’ve taught over the last eleven years. Seeing them grow into adults with spouses and jobs and families always brings me joy. But so many of them I never hear from again, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They go out into the world and grow up. We have to assume we did the best we could to make a positive impact.
I have a folder in my file cabinet where I keep special mementos from students: thank you notes, drawings, and other delights I’ve collected over the years. Andrew Stadel recently requested memorable moments from our teaching careers and so I went digging through this file folder to find Algebra version of M.C. Hammer’s Can’t Touch This that I adapted for my class made up of mostly choir and band 9th graders. [No, I’m not sharing it, and No, there was no cell phone video back then].
As I dug into that folder, I also found this:
It didn’t seem to have the same pick-me-up tone as the other papers in the folder, but I know exactly why I kept it – to remind myself of my privilege. To make sure I am always cognizant of the struggles my students endure when they aren’t in my classroom. And to make it clear to myself that I teach people first, not mathematics.
Never for one second did I believe that this kid ended up in jail as he was convinced back then. I reached out to him using my old stand-by: Facebook. Not only is this student not in jail, but he is thriving as an entrepreneur in IT, has a child on the way, and is living happily with his beautiful fiance. With his permission, I am telling his story of triumph over his adolescent years where happiness seemed out of reach and success seemed hopeless. His story of resilience has made a positive difference for me as an educator and will continue to help the future students that step into my classroom year after year.