Monday, August 24, 2009

"Met an old student on the city street" *

Last Friday found the boy and I in the city for a free concert that didn't end up happening. Which was a bit disappointing. But the sun shone, people bustled, various construction projects raged (as is standard in the city)... and once we'd finally found over-priced parking, we observed humanity in all its lovely, hideous, often inappropriately clad forms. (The poor dress code of today's workers is fodder for another, much longer post.)

As the kid and I stood beside the supposed concert location, awaiting any sort of hopeful development, we were pleasantly surprised to see my cousin walking down the street, on the job, on the phone, co-worker beside him—amused smiles and waves were exchanged as he hurried on to his next assignment. More people made their way past, some scurrying, some meandering, most simply walking at an average pace. One young woman caught my eye; she was oddly familiar, petite and fair, with clear eyes that brought me back to another period in my life, a much earlier time that I'd all but left behind me. She studied me for a moment as she moved by, I gave her a glance but tried not to stare, and as she continued down the sidewalk I wondered to myself if perhaps, just perhaps, that was a former student that I recalled well.

She came back. As soon as I saw her turning, I knew it was her. She asked me if I'd taught school—I asked her if her name was A. We giggled a bit, now that we were certain, and proceeded to catch up on what had happened in the past 15 years. I introduced her to my son, she told me about her two little ones, we chatted like two moms (which we were). She asked me what my last name was now, and I told her—and then giggled again. "Do you even know my first name?" She remembered it, although I'd never permitted the kids in my classes to use it.

She had always been an absolute delight, in class and out. I was pleased to have run into her again, to see how she's grown, to see the more polished, educated, settled woman she's become. As we talked, it occurred to me that the last time I'd really spoken to her, it had likely been about an assignment, a term paper, a book we'd been reading as part of literature class. She'd been hanging around with her friends back then, in a cheerleading outfit, discussing games and practice and dances and dates. Now here she was, married, a mother, a professional person working downtown. With some quick comparisons, we realized that we are both right now in our same decade of life.

That was the part that blew my mind. Because I'd started teaching right out of college, and in upper grades no less, only about 6 years separate me from this charming young woman who once was my student. It hits me, that moment, what totally different people we are now from the children we were then, not just because we're older but because she is no longer my subordinate. I am no longer assigning her chapters or essays. We are on the same playing field, comparing notes.

And it was so nice to see her. But a tad disconcerting. I felt old. I am old. She is not yet old, but she's not a kid, either. And although we must look at least somewhat the same as we used to, we're so removed from those roles of the past that aside from physical similarities, I wonder if there are any other recognizable characteristics that remain.

People from your past. They surely do make you ponder, don't they?

* Any one else remember that Dan Fogelberg song about bumping into someone he knew?


Athelas63 said...

I remember the Fogelberg song, except didn't he meet an old lover? Which made it much more bittersweet.

Anyway - I think that must be one of the best parts of being a teacher - seeing "kids" all grown up. How lovely. Perhaps a nice little nudge from the good Lord about the joys of teaching as you re-enter the workforce?

chris h. said...

Love the Fogelberg song! Very great post -- met my old 6th grade teacher when I was working at Pitt and he was there working on his doctorate. Just a chance meeting by the elevators, but he walked right up to me, said my name heartily, and shook my hand. It was GREAT -- he was a favorite teacher and the fact that he remembered me meant everything. He's now the superintendent of a "rival" school district!

Facie :-) said...

When I first joined Facebook, I was surprised at how odd it felt to "see" some people I had not for 10 or, in many cases, 20 years. But what struck me even more was how weird it was that most of these people had kids. In my mind, they had not aged, so how could they possibly have 10 or 15 year olds?

Looking forward to the post about the dress code. I hate dressing up, and I cringe every time I see people during the day dressed in suits. I hope I don't have to dress like that in my next job.

Mel said...

yes, "Met an old lover in the grocery store" is the original lyric. I changed it. maybe it was a nudge from God...? who knows. a good teacher can change a person, as can a good student.

Facie, I'll get on that dress code post soon... as soon as I can work up the courage. ; )