One of my friends and coworkers, the one who met me last night out on the practice field along with a couple of hundred other people for Nate's candlelight vigil, said on her Facebook that students don't realize that impact is not just one way. It's not just us, as teachers, impacting our students' lives. They impact ours as well. Every day we come into contact with dozens of students, and they affect us just as we affect them. She's right. I am not the person I would have been without working with the hundreds of students I have seen in my eleven years of teaching, both as an intern and a certified teacher.
My students know that I struggle with names. My brain has a disconnect between name and face, so very often. There are some that are seared into memory, for good or evil, true, but even if I know a student very well, I often freeze up and completely forget his or her name. They're generally kind about my forgetfulness. In turn, I reassure them that it is nothing personal, and that I do know who they are.
I never forgot Nate's name. I don't know if I ever would have.
Last night I had the opportunity to speak briefly at the vigil, after we had lit our wind-threatened candles and people were able to share stories and memories about this boy who had touched all our lives. I said that his father had asked me which year Nate had been in my class, and I struggled to remember--not because I didn't remember him, but because it felt as though I had known him for much longer. Then some former students reminded me that I had him during his junior year, and it all came back to me.
The year I had Nate in class was most definitely not the easiest year of my life, I said, and laughter broke out around the huge circle from all the other former students who remembered. It hadn't been. That was the year my life had fallen apart, the facade of strength and happiness and a decent marriage crumbling as that marriage imploded and I literally disappeared from work for three weeks. I managed to hold things together once I got back to work, but barely.
Nate was one of the few people who could get me to smile, even on my worst days. He was no Pollyanna--he had a snarkiness and sarcasm that worked better anyway--but his smile lit up the room. He would bring me chocolate and food, because he knew that's what works with Ross. Just a few months ago he came in with a couple other former students to bring me lunch, because he knew I always forget my lunch.
He was one of those people who make others feel better about themselves. He was one of the people who make the world a better place by being in it. I would have always remembered him, even without this tragedy. I will always remember him.
I'm glad I had the chance to share that with his parents, his friends, his Color Guard family.
Today has been a rough day, for various reasons. I'm here at work, and I'm getting things done, and I'm working with the students. But I'm not smiling. And in return, my students are being solicitous and cooperative. Several have checked to make sure I'm okay and not in the throes of deep depression--and I'm not, but I understand why they're wondering. A student who missed class because he slept in brought me donuts and a mocha and a tray of baklava as an apology (they know my weaknesses, these kids). One of the girls who always eats lunch in my room asked if I'd like her to bring in a slice of homemade chocolate cake tomorrow.
As I sit here, not eating lunch because I have no appetite, but sipping on a cafe mocha from Tim Hortons, I feel a wave of thankfulness washing over me, pricking my eyes with tears.
They're my kids. They're the reason I stick with this job despite all the thanklessness and political bullshit.
And I hope that they will leave this school with memories of a teacher who made a difference in their lives, just as they made a difference in mine.
3 years ago