When I became a teacher my intentions were admirable. I wanted my students to aspire to their greatest academic potential, and also to learn that everything about themselves was just as it should be—perfectly beautiful.
Most days in my classroom were full of positivity but I’ll be the first to admit that there were moments I wanted a do-over. My shortcomings always came when my patience was spent and usually resulted in a cringe-worthy moment. Even though I always apologized afterwards, I worried about the consequences of my prickly comments, not only because I wanted to inspire my students but also because I knew the children I was teaching could circle back into my life in other capacities. Important capacities.
None of them has circled back in my life more significantly than Steven.
Steven was my seventh grade student twenty years ago. I was fresh out of Miami University, and I thought I knew it all. The problem? So did Steven. He questioned everything I did, often catching details I’d missed, and because I’m human, I found his inquisitiveness unnerving. Especially because he was always right. Desperately wanting him to dial it down a notch, I concocted, what I thought was a well-thought-out plan. I privately tallied how many questions he asked during a period, and called him to my desk after class. I don’t remember now how many times he’d raised his hand during class, because what is burned into my memory is the look on his face as I spoke. His expression was full of hurt and embarrassment and I immediately knew I’d screwed up. I attempted to unring that bell for the rest of the school year, and also tried to convince myself that it was all somewhat inconsequential. After all, our school year together would come to an end, and our paths would likely never cross again.
Little did I know how wrong I could be.
Fast forward—2006. I was lying in a pre-op quietly sobbing as I was being prepped for a D&C. I’d experienced my third miscarriage and, after 10 years of trying to conceive, I was devastated. I remember my OB asking if it would be okay if a fourth year medical student assisted and I shrugged. I could not have cared less who was there. A few minutes later the med student popped in to introduce himself. Imagine my shock when he lowered his surgical mask and I saw Steven’s face.
“Oh my God, I’ll scrub out!” he blurted out as we recognized one another.
I thought about it for a minute, and seeing as how I’d wronged him—the inquisitive boy who had a passion for details—I told him to stay. After all, I’d been his science teacher and now he’s going to be a doctor. How could I ask him to leave? It was a decision I didn’t regret, because my first groggy memory as I came out of anesthesia was of my recovery nurse finding a note pinned to me.
Dear Mrs. Savage,
I’m so sorry for you loss. I have fond memories of you, and I just know in my heart that you’d be a great mom. Feel better soon.
That note sustained me through my grief. How lucky was I that he was there?
Recently, one of my miracles, Mary Kate, had her first day of preschool. It was an exciting day and I couldn’t help but huddle with a group of parents outside her classroom. I was thrilled to see her instantly click with a new friend. As they followed one another to check out a puzzle, my concentration was broken when I heard someone say, “Carolyn?”
Imagine my surprise when I turned to see Steven. After a big hug and introduction to his wife, we made the connection—our kids were in the same class. We laughed at the irony as he pointed out his girl, “Right there, playing with the blonde!”
Right next to my daughter.
As it turns out Mary Kate hasn’t stopped talking about Steven’s daughter, Luna. They are two peas in a pod, and I’m guessing—because karma got me good by blessing me with a voraciously inquisitive daughter—their teachers are dealing with a constant barrage of questions. Hopefully they are more patient than I was.
So to all those teachers out there in this new school year, please remember to be kind to your students not only because it’s the right way to be, but also because you never know who these kids will eventually grow up to be. Some of them may eventually be a very significant part of your life.
Carolyn Savage is the author of Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, The Baby We Couldn’t Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift. When not being bombarded with a nonstop litany of questions from her five ridiculously curious kids, she can be found blogging about her life at MamaOnTheFly.com.
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