Prompt: When I walked into my classroom before school, I saw that the chalkboard had a note on it. I assumed it was from the former student who, I had been told, had stopped by the previous day but been unable to find me. The note said . . .
… “You changed my life.”
As I was putting my backpack on my desk, Nancy came into the room. “Who left that note?” she asked, pointing at the chalkboard.
“A student stopped by yesterday and left that message. She didn’t leave her name.”
“It’s a nice thing to be told,” Nancy said.
“She should have indicated if I changed her life for better or worse,” I said.
“I’m sure,” Nancy said, “it was for the better.”
“How would she know, really? Say she’s twenty years old now–what does a twenty-year old know about what makes life better or worse. Maybe before my class she was going to develop a technology that saves lives, and now she may be living off the grid in Hawaii, growing organic pineapples. I got a letter from a student last year who was doing that. She said I changed her life too.”
“Do you tell your students to move to Hawaii and live off the grid?”
“No, but during the Transcendental unit, I mention that I once sought to simplify my life, and that I ended up working on a dairy farm in Switzerland. I use that example to help explain the urge to ‘front only the essential facts of life,’”
“Are Swiss farms better for that than American farms for that ?”
“I don’t know. An American farm probably would have worked, but Europe made sense at the time. But when I talk about that, I’m not planning out anyone’s life. I’m not qualified for that.”
“Maybe changing lives is something we do as an innate part of teaching.”
“It shouldn’t be. Parents don’t send their kids off to school with the words, ‘Go and have your life changed’; and even if they did, I’m not trained for that. I never took, ‘Changing lives 401’ in college; and anyone who gets into life-changing areas with kids better be ready to handle some pretty complex stuff.”
Nancy looked from me to the chalkboard and, after a moment, she said, “I think I may have gone into teaching to change lives. I think that may still be what I want to do.”
“That’s fine,” I said, as I walked to the board and began to erase the sentence left by the former student. “Just don’t mention anything about Swiss dairy farms.”