Sunday, December 2, 2007

Flowers in Bloom

I realized after Veronica dropped me at Bush Airport in Houston this morning that I’d forgotten to take a picture. Come to think of it, I’d forgotten to take one of Sonia yesterday after breakfast. How could I have forgotten? I hadn’t seen either of them in years, but my digital camera stayed in my backpack. Could conversation have been too good? Maybe I couldn’t get over the fact that while I used to drive kids home (in my Toyota pick-up truck, not a ‘best practice’), I had just watched Sonia motor out of a restaurant parking lot, and was now belted into Veronica’s passenger seat.

As teachers, we invest heavily in our students, never sure what will become of them. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to hear good news from--or about--our former students. Occasionally the news we hear isn’t so good. Often there’s no news at all, and we’re left to hope the educational seeds we’d planted blossomed after our time together.

I was lucky to teach kids like Sonia and Veronica (both are 22 now) and lucky to have kept in touch (not as often as I’d have liked, though). I was their teacher for two years in the mid-90’s at Macario Garcia Elementary School in Houston. No, they weren’t held over. I’d asked to loop with my 4th grade class through 5th grade. I’d wanted to take an active role in the middle school admissions process. Veronica and Sonia both tested into T.H. Rogers, perhaps the top middle school in H.I.S.D. It was a long bus ride from the North Side to Rogers, but the middle school alternatives near Garcia Elementary made it a clear choice for the girls and their families.

Years later, it is clear how valuable that middle school experience was in shaping these two young women. Sonia graduated from college in May, and is working fulltime for a State legislator. Veronica is wrapping up her B.A. and is thinking about starting her own business. Both are strongly considering graduate school.

I’m not na├»ve to think that the rest of my former students are as accomplished. However, I’m convinced that for Veronica and Sonia, their common middle school experience was crucial. Even all these years later, each of my former students independently mentioned T.H. Rogers when I saw them this weekend. That school clearly had a major influence on their preparation for high school and beyond.

There is no doubt that we shepherd our students through the more challenging years of their lives. Have you ever met someone who said: “Gee, I really miss middle school. Life was great for me at that point!” Neither have I. Yet at the same time, these are incredibly critical years. The middle school years are when adolescents develop their intellects, their scholarly habits and their resiliency. Prepared and informed, they’ll be poised to take high school by storm. Under-equipped and unguided, they’ll face an uphill climb when they leave our school.

Seeing my former students in Houston—and hearing their unprompted thoughts about middle school—sparked me to re-commit to the work I’m currently doing. I envision CIS 339 teachers re-connecting with their current students in several years, hearing wonderful stories about college classes and new jobs. I promise that it’s worth all the time, the struggle and the (unreturned) love. Not too many adolescents are going to tell you while you work with them how much they appreciate you. It just isn’t cool. But years later, when you hear “Thank you” and see the success stories? Planting seeds is hard work; blooming flowers are a pleasure to marvel at.

Maybe I didn’t take pictures of the “kids” this weekend because I already have my pictures that I love already playing through my mind from time to time…Sonia stumping me with a question from the back row…Veronica smiling after catching a touchdown during intramural football.

We didn’t use digital cameras back then, but those images are the clearest ones I have.