The thing about teaching is that you are really and truly affecting the life of every student you have. For some, it is just a minimal impact. For others, it is huge. I can't help but fall back to my favorite quote about teaching:
“I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am
the decisive element in the classroom. It's my daily mood that makes the
weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's
life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of
inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations,
it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or
de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.” -Dr. Haim Ginott
However, you never know. In teaching, there is no instant gratification. You may NEVER know if you had any sort of imprint on the life of a student. It's hard to believe that I've been out of the secondary classroom for 5 years. My first students are 28-30 years old. Whoa. A few have found me on facebook. And I figure - if they thought enough to send me a friend request, why not accept it? There is one in particular that really touched me. I'll call her Sue.
Back before facebook got all weird and I could actually follow along with what people were posting and saying, I noticed that she was an advocate for an Eating Disorder support group. It became fairly obvious that she had struggled with - and then conquered - some sort of eating disorder. While this would be a sad thing to read about anybody, it was particularly poignant to me - because Sue was a student in my Nutrition class. (where we cooked. and ate. and did units of study over eating disorders...) And I remember that she rarely (if ever) sampled the food that her group prepared. (even though they were supposed to.) I can't say that I knew she had an eating disorder - I wondered, but she was an athlete and seemed to be in good health. So it isn't that I felt guilty, but I did feel like I *should* have known....that I could have made her life easier in one way or another if only I had probed a little more. Or asked the right questions. So not too long ago, I sent her a message via facebook:
Sue - I've been thinking about this since we became FB friends last year..... I
remember that you never ate during our Nutrition class, and at the back
of my mind, I wondered if food was some sort of demon for you. (But I
thought maybe you were a little OCD like me and didn't want to eat
something that other people had prepared.... did they wash their hands?
Did they cook it long enough? etc.) You seemed like the picture of
health to me - always so tan and fit from [the sport you played!] But now I gather from
some of your posts that my initial thoughts were probably right.... and
I wanted to tell you I'm sorry that I never said anything. (And even
more sorry if we ever said/did anything in class that made you
uncomfortable!) You look like you're doing well now... but if there is
ever anything I can do, please let me know. Better late than never,
She responded with:
Wow ...You just brought tears to my eyes! You were right, I
struggled with an eating disorder from the time i was 13-14 until about 3
years ago. Please know how much I appreciate you sending me this
message. I was in complete denial during high school times, but somehow
kept it "under control" because I knew I had to at least minimally take
care of myself in order to [participate in a sport.] I [was in a college sport] for a
short time but ended up dropping out because things go so bad. I moved
back to Austin thinking that would help, but after a few years that
proved to be false, and I degenerated to my ultimate low and decided I
wanted to live. I finally received inpatient treatment almost three
years ago at a wonderful facility up in [a state.] Life is so much better
on the other side, and honestly I feel grateful, in a way, for my
journey through all of that. I returned to college about 2 years ago and am a junior [subject] major at [college.] Life is great. Ironically, I remember having moments of fun times in your class. Are
you still teaching and/or are you still in the Austin area? You were a
great teacher, something I will be soon! Thank you again for the email. For real!
Talk about something bringing tears to your eyes....
So where am I going with this story? Well, Sue and I are also Pinterest friends now, and she pinned some of my recipes today. And it made me happy. And I figure that even if I didn't make a difference to her while she was in my classroom, maybe I made a difference after the fact. It's never too late to do the right thing.