After being on a bit of maternity leave, then moving away for a while so my husband could complete his JD/MBA, I was back home and ran into a teaching colleague from my first couple of years teaching at a middle school. We spent a few minutes catching up, and toward the end of our conversation I was shocked to learn that a close teaching friend had passed away peacefully while I had been gone and busy with my life in other places. I can’t stop thinking about her. It’s been a bit of a shock. Especially, I think, because as a young(ish) teacher (in my mid-twenties), I don’t really think of those kinds of things happening. I am so focused on learning and growing and teaching right now, at the beginning of what I hope is a long career in education, that I don’t think much about the path that continues after teaching. My dear friend had retired shortly after I had left that school on maternity leave, and had had a long and wonderful teaching career. My thoughts lately have been largely about her–so much so that I had to write them down:
I remember how I felt my first years of teaching–who doesn’t remember the blur of disillusionment and hopefulness and exhaustion and revelation? But I vividly remember how you made me feel. They say you were a mentor to many, and I am one of that many. Countless teachers in their first years often find themselves in survival mode, but you made me feel like I was thriving. I was pushed to grow through the meetings I led and committees I served on, and above and beyond all I was pushed by my students to be the best I could be, to be innovative and revolutionary. I would talk with you about these things, about research I’d read, strategies I was trying, successes, failures, and frustrations, and you were always so impressed with me. You can’t imagine how this made me feel–that beyond just the success I felt with my students, you noticed me and my efforts and knew without a doubt that I stood out, that I could make a real difference. Doesn’t every teacher want to make a difference? I do. And you did, not just to your students but to me.
We laughed as co-conspirators over silly teacher humor and you helped me get through the day with your homemade treats. I was a little in awe of you as a teacher because you had so much experience and wisdom, but also as a person because you were someone who was always curious, always learning. Sitting by you at the faculty room lunch table always led to a new revelation about the way the world worked, or about something worth reading. You showed me what it meant to be interested in the world and people around you, and how to share that with your students and your peers. I like to think that you helped me develop that love of learning even more as you encouraged me and cheered for me.
I grew to have a confidence in myself because you showed me how great I was and how great I could be. Recognizing those things in others is one thing, but you always expressed them too. The kind, quiet, but passionate way you approached learning and teaching was such an example for me. You showed me friendship and love, and I’ll never forget it.