One of the best things about teaching is watching the kids you teach grow up. This is from October 2, 2012.
I mentioned two nights ago that I spent parts of Thursday and Saturday as well as all day Friday in St. Louis. The occasion for my travel was the annual dinner for Christian Family Services, a faith based organization that does unbelievable work in the areas of adoption, foster care, and family/marital counseling. I wrote I reconnected with Trina Agee Cornell who I was blessed to spend many summers with in Honduras on missions. But Trina wasn't the only young lady I reconnected with.
Two years ago, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from a former student, Theresa Nguyen, whose family relocated to St. Louis in 2004. She filled me in on her life and how she was engaged to the young man of her dreams and she sent me their picture together. When I was invited to speak at the CFS event last spring, I contacted Theresa and hoped we could spend time together and that is what we did. For four hours on Friday afternoon, I hung out with Theresa and her husband of one year, Andrew. They took me out to lunch, showed me their beautiful home, and let me watch their wedding video. They also bought me a Cardinal's pullover, which has earned rave reviews in Houston, a rival franchise city. On Friday night, they came to the CFS dinner to hear me speak. Afterwards, we said our good-byes and promised to meet again on their next trip to Houston to see her relatives. Lord willing, I will see them again this January.
Sometimes at the end of the school year, we make a time capsule in my classes using one of our Honduras bank bottles. The kids all sign the bottle and write their best memories of the year on a slip of paper to be encased in the plastic for the far distant future. When I got back to Houston, I dug through my closet and pulled out the time capsule from her eighth grade year and found Theresa's sentiments. Here is what she wrote verbatim:
May 18, 2001
My best memory 4 this class is Coach Hawley's singing!!! Of course, the "Ugo" thing would never fade away..... & of course, you and Angie Harmon (heart heart)I also remember all the notez I use to write you -n- every test. I remember when I came -n- here after lunch, I would be -n- some grouchy mood sometimes & I would leave knowing that there was someone who cares about me and my situation, and I would always leave with a GREAT attitude! And rating this class as my # 1 favorite subject, & U as my most Favorite Bible teacher! I heart U Coach Hawley.................tear tear tear
Pretty typical eighth grade girl communication. But on Friday, when we met after a ten year gap, we conversed as adults. She spoke about marriage and the pressures of being in school and working concurrently and career plans. Theresa and Andrew talked about mortgages and student loans and the dynamics of cultural differences within families, as her folks were born in Vietnam. They took me to see her parents at their business- her mom and dad expressed gratitude repeatedly for our kids at WCS raising funds for them when their house burned down. (I also met her little sister, nine years old and adorable, for the first time!) That night, they met Trina and her husband, Bob, at the CFS gala and I introduced them to my brother, Dave, and my amazing sister-in-law, Sally. In Sally, Theresa found a kindred spirit and in spite of a slight age difference, it was as if they had been friends for years. We laughed when we took pictures and Theresa did not want to be in the middle of a group of three because, as she informed us, whoever is in the middle always dies first! She told me she is still mad that I did not mention her in my book which I authored when she was in eighth grade- I countered that I am angry that she did not ask me to preach her wedding. I left feeling slightly guilty- I left a box of chocolates they gave as a gift to me in their car. Hopefully, she will remember all the times we spoke about the need for forgiveness in her eight and ninth grade Bible classes.
As I returned to Texas, I found myself thinking about teaching and the growth process we see in the children we are given the responsibility of, not just teaching, but mentoring and molding. I thought of Paul's famous line in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and verse 11:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Theresa's not a man, obviously, and she's no longer a child. I found in the grown up Theresa someone who can make me laugh and make me think. I found a young woman who has married her ideal match in Andrew, a pharmacist who impresses me greatly. And it put in perspective the importance of the forty-six minutes we as teachers are allotted every day from August to May to make a difference. Theresa repeated words I don't remember uttering and incidents I don't remember witnessing. But she remembered and so will the kids who sit in the same classroom where she sat from 2000 to 2002. And that's the beauty- and the weight- of being an educator. I have a multitude of Theresas in my roll book this year. I hope they'll want to see me in ten years, too.
Applicable quote of the day:
“I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn't.”