I was recently surprised by a visit from a student I hadn’t seen in eight years. Though he had often come to mind, I never expected to see him again.
Eight school years ago, James and I got off to a good start. But in the spring term, expectations were not being met. On a bad day, I communicated this to James in a way that negatively impacted our relationship. He stopped coming to class.
I didn’t see him for a week or so. When I tracked him down, he told me he had lost respect for me because of the way I had treated him. It was hard to hear; the truth often is. I apologized. He resumed coming to class and finished the year, but our relationship was never quite right again.
The falling out was on both our minds when he visited. “I still think about it,” I said. “Yeah, I wanted to apologize for that,” James replied. I told him no apology was necessary. In fact, I appreciated his courage and maturity in calling me out. I had good intentions, but my actions made the situation worse. It happens sometimes: Often enough, in my career, that I feel like I’ve finally learned my lesson.
Unfortunately I won’t get the opportunity to resolve all those issues from the past. But I’m glad I got that chance here. James is doing well, figuring out who he is, finding success. I’m not sure exactly why, but there was some comfort in knowing that our falling out affected him, too. I was grateful that we could find some positive resolution, even after eight years.
Teaching is an incredibly challenging job. It is a constant struggle to find balance: the balance between expectations and patience; between being tough and being understanding; between pushing a young person and letting them be. As teachers, we are challenged to find that balance a hundred times a day. Somedays we come up short, and we have to live with the consequences. This is the emotional toll of the job.
But that emotional investment also means a brief, unexpected visit years later can make a world of difference. Thanks, James.