I attended a job fair with member of the Academic Leadership Team from Trinity to Milledgeville, GA, at Georgia College and State University. We were one of two, maybe three independent schools there for the day. By and large, the entire gym floor was filled with representatives from schools systems from all over Georgia, big and small.
It was an interesting day and we had the opportunity to speak to a few soon-to-be graduating seniors that are looking to go into teaching. As we were leaving, I heard someone calling me, “Mr. Benefield.”
I turned around to see a young man approaching me. He told me he was a former student at Fernbank Elementary. He saw me during the Job Fair while he was working out – the job fair was held in their gym and the workout room was above us – and he came down to talk to me. He introduced himself to me, reminded me of his younger brother’s name and then he said,
“I just wanted to tell you, ‘Thank you’.” He went on to tell me how much he appreciated all the work that I did and all the teachers at Fernbank did for him, and all the students. He said he noticed such a difference in the teachers at Fernbank than any of the other schools he attended. He said again, “I just wanted to tell you, ‘Thank you’.” He was so sincere and earnest. I found out that he is a senior and is majoring in business and is looking forward to graduating in the spring.
We shook hands, gave each other a quick hug, and then he was backing away, saying again, “Thank you.” I stood there for a few seconds and then turned to go.
My colleague said, “That was really moving. You’ve made a difference in someone’s life, Thomas.” I was really moved. This young man had not even been in my homeroom class, but I did remember him. That being said, I did go and look him up in the yearbook from the time he was in 5th grade! I could definitely see the young man that emerged through the face of that 10-year old on the page.
I occasionally run into former students in random places and it’s always fun, but that was the first time I have been moved like that. It’s humbling and gratifying to know that students who we pour ourselves into every year really do reap the benefit of care, love, and time.
The other thing that happened was at two different locations, one at the Trinity Spotlight on Art and the Druid Hills High School Auction. At both locations I ran into parents of former students. From as recent as last year to all the way far back as 17 years ago!
I really enjoy getting to know the parents of my students. It does not happen with all the parents and that’s fine. I have had the privilege to become friends with parents of some of my students and former students. It does not usually happen the year I am teaching their child; although, I do have a few of those. Usually, over the school year we find there is something that we have in common. Whether it is music, movies, comic books, or something else, there’s a spark of a relationship beyond teacher/parent.
The weekend I ran into those parents, it was so exciting to hear about what these
boys and girls (sometimes it is hard to not see them as eternally the 10-11 year olds they were when they were with me) young men and women are up to. From middle school sports and academic teams to high school and college to graduate school to full-time careers as adults, I heard fascinating and uplifting stories.
I have been in the classroom since 1992, I wish I knew what some of my first students from the 1990s were up to. I know there’s a possibility that one day I will have a student come in my room and I’ll find out that I taught their mom or dad. Maybe that’s a dream, I don’t know, but the possibility brings me a great deal of happiness.
As teachers, we take a risk getting to know our students’ parents on a personal level. There are some things that could go wrong, certainly. At the same time, I find there has been so much to gain and I have no regrets in extending that relationship outside of the classroom. I am looking forward to many more years of being in the classroom and many more stories from the parents of those students.