There are so many benefits to having students grow and prosper in your class. In a way, your classroom becomes a home of sorts, and your role mimics that of a parent as these fledglings prepare to leave the nest. But what happens once they take flight? After graduation, you may never get the opportunity to see your students again. You might never find out if your lessons mattered, if you had any influence, if your teaching somehow shaped their minds and their lives.
Recently I’ve had a few opportunities to sit down and chat with former students about their studies in university and their life plans. I guess this is a bit easier for someone who lives and teaches in a small, close-knit community since most people know each other and people tend to come back to visit during their breaks. I’m sure this happens in larger centres as well, but my imagination leads me to believe that it happens here more often. Besides, would someone in a large city begrudge me this opportunity to think that our tiny school is better in some way? I think not.
I believe that sometimes, your students never stop being your students. If they take advantage of opportunities to connect with you after they graduate to contemplate their studies and their decisions, it complements and extends the learning that occurred while they were in your classroom.
I have a few students who have made an impression on me lately. (Funny how they begin to teach me) The first ‘student story’ involves a young lady who always pushed herself to develop a unique style, while she continually checked with me to refine her skills in order to better express her thoughts. She is now in her last year of university, studying to become an art teacher. While we talked about techniques, classroom practices and educational theory, I was amazed at the depth of her knowledge of current trends of educational reform. Was it that long ago that I studied to become a teacher? The level at which she questioned current practices, assessment and student involvement had never been explored while I was a student teacher. The critical thinking that we encourage our students to apply in the class has definitely been at the forefront of her studies, and affects her thoughts about her future career. Brilliant.
The second story revolves around a student who is now in his seventh year of university. While in high school, he was incredibly successful in math and science courses and thrived in an enriched program. In his last year of school, he finally accepted that he had to take an arts course to graduate. His fear of art was a huge obstacle for him, especially considering his preference for classes that were based on objectivity and theory. After completing his first degree, he made the decision to plot a different course than he planned. Still able to apply his knowledge of concepts and theory, he moved on to architecture. Years after leaving high school, art lessons began to find their way back into his life and his studies. Drawings and sketches began to make sense and became a love for him — and now occupies much of his time (his admission of drawing until 4 a.m. stunned me!). Who would have thought?
Assumptions play such an important role in our lives. Only when we confront what we take for granted are we blessed with discovering truth in our lives and real fulfillment.
My last story (for now) involves a student who I have mentored as she has studied to become an art teacher. Having moved far away to study in another beautiful region of Canada, our meetings were possible through chats on Facebook and discussions on Skype. Her art was always accented by fearlessness and exceptional exploration of materials. She devoted her studies to art throughout her university years and then made the decision to teach, which allowed us to build an even stronger relationship as we discussed many of her issues throughout her practicum. Our last Skype call was one of the toughest for both of us as we explored her decision to focus on her art rather than becoming a teacher. She had hesitated from talking about her change of heart because she was afraid that she would disappoint me.
I can’t express how much I needed to her to understand what a critical and beautiful moment this was for her. She was beginning to challenge the assumptions in her life, and although she wasn’t sure what her next step would be, she knew that she needed to stop where she was. Remarkable! To this student, I want to write a little note. Don’t be scared. Consider what would happen if you hadn’t made this courageous decision. You are guiding your own life, not living through the hopes of others. Good for you!
I want to thank the students who are kind enough to share their stories with me by taking time from visiting with family and friends. You may not realize it, but teachers love these moments. To know that we matter to you is exactly why we signed up for this career.