Today I heard from one of my New Haven students. She is a senior and is about to turn 18. She wrote to tell me about the things she is doing in school this year and to tell me how motivated and excited she is about doing them. One of the things she’s trying to tackle is educating the lower grades about HIV and AIDS which is something our advisory was dedicated to last year. She is also trying to make her school an LGBT safe school and so, as she says, is running a three-day course educating the rest of the school about LGBT issues and what it means to be a “safe school.” In her e-mail language, she writes: “and my last goal is to get ppl to stop saying the “n” word whch is no longer apart of my vocabulary. i am doing to much in my school and i am planing to do so much in my school i wish you coould see my growth through educating my peers….i got a lot of passion from you…”
It makes me so proud to know that I had something to do with this young woman, that in some tiny way shape or form I was able to open up one part of her eyes in a way that might not have opened until later, or ever. Do I take credit for who she is today? Absolutely not. But am I proud to know that maybe somewhere sometime, one class discussion or one book or one something that we did together helped to give her perspective or motivation or passion? Oh god, yes.
One time, a long time ago it seems, I talked with my friend and his wife in New Haven over dinner and I cried into my pasta about how overwhelming it felt to teach in New Haven and to effect change and to help anyone. And they told me, with the wisdom and calm only veteran teachers have, that I had no hope of helping everyone, but one I could. And I wouldn’t know it until years later.
As this young woman and the rest of my students are about to graduate, getting accepted to colleges across the nation and growing into their own skins in ways I’m sure they didn’t think was possible, I’m learning of their successes now that I’ve gone. And they are so successful (full scholarships, partial scholarships, internships, lots of ships) and so wonderful, these kids. MY kids. The ones who really aren’t kids anymore. I realize they grow up. And I realize that I had some tiny role in their growing up. And I realize that they’re growing up to be good people. And isn’t that all that really matters for us teachers? To know that what we did helped our kids grow up to be good, strong, passionate people?
She wrote also to tell me she has a birthday present for me and could she give it to me if I come home in April? And I wrote her back and told her that the best present I’ve ever gotten for a birthday is that letter. And it’s true.