Last night’s book launch at Barnes & Noble was wonderful, and I thank all of my friends and family and fans for their support. We had about one hundred people in attendance to hear me read a smidgen from MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, tell some stories related to the book, recommend some of my favorite books, and answer some interesting, challenging and probing questions from the audience.
Included in the audience were three former students who were in my first class fourteen years ago. When I taught these three students, I was teaching second grade and they were seven years old. Today they are are preparing to enter their junior year in college, and yet whenever I launch a book or premier a musical or direct a Shakespearean play with my class, they always seem to find a way to be there.
I cannot tell you how much this means to me.
Brandon was my first most difficult student, so he is also one of my most memorable students of all time. He was a handful to say the least, and he would have been a handful even with a decade of teaching experience under my belt. He was a class clown, a rambunctious boy, a slightly disinterested student and perpetually happy, which made it almost impossible to punish him. No matter what I did to make him suffer and learn his lesson, he would continue to smile.
Today Brandon is studying to be a surgical physician's assistant and doing great. He has a mature young man who continues to impress me every time I see him. At last night’s launch, I charged the audience to go home and write something and make it a habit that they never stop. Before I had even returned home and paid the babysitter, Brandon had written about something he had overheard that night and sent it to me for my review.
I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was to see it.
If only he had been so quick to complete his homework assignments in second grade.
Liz is the reason that I teach Shakespeare to my students. I was having an especially difficult day in class. No one was listening to my instructions, students were unfocused and loud, Brandon was probably causing trouble, and so in an act of desperation, I shouted, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” The class went quiet, everyone stared at their wild-eyed teacher, and then little Elizabeth, seven years old at the time, said, “What does that mean?” I took a deep breath, calmed my nerves and explained that the line came from a play entitled Julius Caesar. Then Liz asked, “What’s the play about?” I began to summarize the plot of the play to the class, and for the first time in what seemed like a week, my students were paying attention to me. Seizing on the moment, I gathered them at my feet and told them the entire story of Julius Caesar and his tragic fall from grace. When I was finished, the class was staring at me in utter fascination. They asked if they could perform the play, and thus my career in children’s theater was born.
Liz was one of my best and brightest students during that first year of teaching, and she remains so today. She is also going to be a junior in college this year, and as expected, she is doing remarkably well.
Allison is one of the few students who I had the pleasure of teaching for two years in a row. After teaching second grade for that first year, I was moved up to third grade and about half a dozen students moved up with me, including Allison. I call them “The Tainted Few.” Allison was a quiet but inquisitive student who wore the same purple sweatshirt almost every day and never stopped smiling. She has thankfully left that purple sweatshirt behind and is now attending college and studying marketing, though she also wants to pursue a career in set design and lighting. More than just my former student, Allison has become my friend and an informal member of our family. She is now the primary babysitter for our children and a fixture at family events. Clara refers to Allison as her best friend, and I couldn’t imagine a better best friend for her.
When I began teaching elementary school fourteen years ago, I never expected that three of my tiny second graders, who who were still learning to read and write and behave, would continue to be such an ever-present part of my life. There were many other former students in the audience last night, and each of them mean a great deal to me, but these three former students from my first class own a special place in my heart. They serve as a reminder of who I once was and who I am today, and they have taught me that the bond that forms between a student and a teacher can last long after the students have left the classroom and moved onto bigger and better things.
It’s not something they tell you about you when you’re in college, studying to become a teacher, but they really should.
The paycheck isn’t great, but the benefits are incalculable.