To help me be more critical and mindful of the bonds I’m forging in and out of the classroom, I write anonymous letters to some of my current and former students. This is the eighth post in the series.
It’s been a while. Hope you’re doing well. We haven’t spoken in over five years and I’m not sure you even remember me. Maybe you do. We interacted a lot. You were in my Algebra 2 class. I think you were in both of my robotics electives, too. In fact, for two years, you were one of the leaders of the robotics club. The truth is, you knew more about robotics than me. And you were definitely more passionate about it.
While you may not remember me, I remember you. What I remember most about you is that you were one of the first students in my career who challenged me. Not in a bad or rude way, but in a way that made me question myself and my motives. It’s not like you pointed any of your words or actions directly at me. No, you were just insanely curious about the world and what you could do to better it. If anything, you were looking past me. Way past me. I saw the classroom, grades, lesson plans. You saw the world.
You were someone whose love of reading and books. (Looking back, I’m smile when I think how horrible you were about renewing your library books.) You read things that I would have never thought of picking up. Your interests were vast and varied. Somehow you were able to see the interconnectedness of it all.
What I really appreciated about you, S, was how your reading compelled you to seek out knowledge from those around you, like me. Now I never had any answers to your insistent questions, but you still sought them from me. I realized this back then and I realize it again right now: your questions uplifted me. They nagged at me that I should be doing more. Like I said before, you challenged me. You were assertive, creative, and chased down ideas with passion. You set your sails and harnessed the wind. I floated through my days and prayed I would reach the shore.
Though I was much taller than you, I often felt small whenever we spoke. Not all the time, just sometimes, like whenever your environmental and moral consciousness revealed itself to me. You had grand ideas. Most teenagers do (albeit about things not much bigger than themselves), and this was not shocking to me, but yours were far more grounded and tamed. For instance, while we were learning right triangle trig, your mind was focused on developing an app to help the homeless folks you walk past each morning on your way to school. While I was teaching the class about function transformations, you were rethinking our school’s recycling program. And while all the other students were worried about passing exams, you organized a hackathon at our school.
Sharing these moments with you helped me see that students are much bigger than the chairs and desks they inhabit. Their hearts and minds have ambitions that go far beyond my curriculum. Thank you for pursuing answers to your questions with me, although I probably did more to distract you from finding them than I did in helping you. Thank you for the inspiration.
For what it’s worth, I wonder how you’re faring these days. In the middle of dual pandemics, what are you thinking about? What are your passions? Where are you?
P.S. Thanks for all of your creative closings to your emails and Friday Letters. All these years later, I’m just now learning to appreciate these valedictions as a means of creative expression in ending a written correspondence. As the writer, they seem to leave a good taste in my mouth after I hit send…and I can only hope they do the same for the reader. All yours about cat advocacy still make me smile.