We have been circling for years. I met her the year I first got a teaching contract.
It was a class whose teacher had walked out on them and finding a replacement was hard. The school had gone through a transition that summer taking half of the students into a consolidated immersion setting and half of the resource hours. The thing is, they only took a quarter of the resource needs. This class had a third of the students in resource the year before. With a grant they got a part time support person in the class but most of the planning for that person fell to the regular teacher. It was a large class with high needs in all directions. After three substitutes refused to return, they began asking around for someone who could work with a group with behavioral and academic struggles. I was recommended.
What the next months held was the building of a learning community that sought to empower the kids to take more responsibility for their learning. It was a time of innovation for me as a new teacher with my first term. I had been blessed by the opportunity to work in a volunteer project in the past that focused on the diversity of learning needs. I had also taken courses and professional learning opportunities on my own time in the area and helped out in other schools. I understood the need to begin with the student and let the curriculum be a guide.
She was one of the students in the class. I will leave most of her story untold. What I will say is that she challenged how I assessed by struggling to turn in any paper that had a mistake on it. Finding a way to reach her meant I spent some extra time working with her outside of class time. She wound herself around my heart in the process.
She gave me a cardboard plaque that year which has held a central place in my home since then. Even when it was painful to read, I kept it safe in my memory trunk. The words have even been photographed to be on display at school and at home.
The summer before I started teaching the class I had begun counseling to come to terms with the need to move from my marriage. However, when the time finally came, I still broke down. I had been given the next year’s contract with the same students and it broke my heart to leave them behind while I had to step aside and heal. I was not emotionally stable enough to do the job. Anxiety and depression, to the degree they hit following my separation confuses the routing of thought. The kids needed more than I could give.
Fast forward another 5 years. I was working at emergency shelters for children, a meaningful job but one in which what I could do for the kids from the perspective of a teacher was limited. I loved the closeness with the kids but was troubled by the inability to follow through in their lives once they left our care. Yet I had lost my belief in ever teaching again so I gave my all to what I was doing.
Then I started to dream. In the basement of my inner home I would be quietly sorting the comfortable cushions and chairs in the room when all the sudden one of them would come to life. Instead of running to hide under something, the living creature would crawl up a wall and lodge under a plaque hanging there. It was always the same one. “To a teacher that made a difference”, the plaque given to me by that young girl. The dreams continued until I listened to them. It was time to go back into teaching again.
I would work in the shelters on a part time basis for another year and a half until my shoulder gave out from the lifting, but my resumes and applications were sent in to a couple of divisions within a month of that decision. Within two months of doing so, in 2005, I had my first long-term contract teaching music. Since that time, there were 6 weeks where I did not have a teaching position lined up. The young girl’s words had left their mark taking me back into the career I loved, the career that fit my spirit.
The children had been 9 and 10 years old that year I taught them. After their graduation from high school, several of them became contacts on my social media page. This young girl, now a woman, was among them. I was able to hear when she formed a stable partnership with a young man I have had the pleasure to meet. I was able to celebrate in words with her when her two little ones were born. I even had a chance to share coffee with her in her home soon after she moved to the town where I am teaching.
Today the news was confirmed. Her oldest child, who begins kindergarten next year will coming to our school. As music teacher, I will be teaching her each year. Having her in my school was a choice. Her child will be taking French Immersion so that my once student can have her dream of having her daughter be taught by me. I am touched to know I made enough of a difference that she treasures the idea of her children being in my classes.
My mindful gift today is the privilege we have of making a difference in the life of others. To be truthful though, this student also impacted my life in the times I needed the message she gave me so many years ago. I am looking forward to getting to know, in person, the young woman she has become. Our relationship has come full circle.