My friend Sandy, a fellow teacher and world traveler posted the following as her status update on Facebook today:
Remembering a time in Goa...a girl I passed everyday on my way to the library (yes there was a library there.)...asked me "what was it like? " and I didn't understand...."Reading...what is it like? " as a female child in a poor family she was uneducated and never had that joy....I tried to explain it ....but to this 18 year old with three children it only sounded like a dream world....
If that isn't a reminder to be thankful for what you have, I'm not sure what is. It reminded me of a time when I was teaching at a rehabilitation center. I had a young man in my class whose life's desire was to join the Army. He wore camouflage to class every day and preferred to be referred to by his last name. He was very able bodied (due in no small part to the fact that he subjected himself to an Army style fitness regimen), but had some significant learning challenges. He was unable to meet the education requirements.
He was a difficult student to work with. He had so much anger and frustration and while I never saw him take it out on a person, he was constantly flying into a rage and punching walls, doors, desks and other inanimate objects, usually accompanied by loud interjections. He made the other students nervous. Truth be told, he made me a little nervous. But I did work with him and we did make some slow steady progress. His will to learn was as strong as his temper.
Another professional opportunity opened up for me along with the opportunity to relocate. I took it. My students held a little going away party for me. After the party, I stayed behind to pack up my things. It was bittersweet, as most endings are. As the song says, "every new beginning comes from some other beginnings' end". I was alone in my classroom when he walked tentatively through the door.
"Can I tell you something?"
"Of course." I was a little nervous. This was a strong, volatile guy and I'd never been alone with him before. I started taking a mental inventory of who might be left in my wing of the building.
"I don't want you to go."
"You'll be fine - the new teacher is great."
"She won't be you."
Panic started to creep into my throat. He was stepping towards me. I was twenty-three at the time - only five years older than him. He punched my desk. I jumped back. "I don't want you to go."
And then, something unexpected: He raised his head and I could see that he'd been crying. I softened a bit, always a sucker for tears. "You don't understand," he continued. His voice was breaking now and he didn't look like a big scary man at all any more. He looked like a sad, vulnerable kid. He enveloped me in a hug - and that should have scared me, but it didn't. He was crying openly now, this strong, muscular, angry, military obsessed kid. Crying in my arms, because at this point I had returned the embrace. "You don't understand," he repeated, "You taught me to read. People have been trying to teach me to read since I was six years old and no one ever could. You did. And now you're leaving me."
Now let me stop right here and tell you that I don't believe this was due to any superior teaching skills on my part. I think it's more likely that he was just ready. I just happened to be the teacher who was in his life when that key turned. And it was the singular happiest moment of my teaching career.
As I gently extricated myself from his embrace - fearing a sexual harassment charge just as I was headed for a new life - he said, "I love you." I think he meant it. To Sir - er - Ma'am - with love.
I responded, "I'll never forget you." I meant it, too.
So. If you've read this post, you're lucky. You're luckier than Sandy's young lady friend. You're luckier than my student. You're lucky. Don't forget it. Show your appreciation by reading something wonderful today, and maybe by sparing a thought for the teachers and parents and caregivers in your life who saw to it that you could.