"Remember that student I had several years ago?" my sister asked. "Well, actually," she clarified, "he wasn't even my student; he had the other Latin teacher."
Important detail: My sister has taught Latin for 100 years or so at the same school. Her Latin program has grown well beyond her classroom, even over to the middle school. All kinds of kids take Latin there--not just the stereotypical brainiacs. Really, there are as many levels of ability in Latin 1 as there are in a regular gym class there. This student was not an academic all-star and had plenty of barriers to his success in life.
She told me his name and reminded me that their relationship began over an altercation. His behavior had caused a major disruption in the classroom next to hers, so much so that she stepped out of her room to address the situation. It was not good. She was furious for a lot of reasons and he made the unfortunate mistake of sassing back instead of remaining quiet and respectful. An administrator came upon the scene and the student got himself a before-school detention the next day.
By the following morning, my sister had (naturally) given it lots of thought; she hoped to meet with the student that day. He seemed like a nice enough kid who had just got carried away in the moment. Plus, she knew his home life wasn't exactly one of privilege. So, it was fortuitous that they encountered one another first thing, quite by accident, in the same place where the argument had occurred. She called him aside, apologized for raising her voice. and admitted ways she thought she could have handled the situation better. Essentially, she allowed herself to be appropriately vulnerable, offered the student a little piece of herself, and made amends.
Over the next three years, they developed a teacher/student friendship of sorts. She'd greet him in the hallway, ask him about his track meets, and encourage him whenever she could. You know, like she did all of her students.
I thought I remembered the story and told her so.
"Anyway," she said, "Did I tell you he came back to see me at Christmas? He's in college now and he stopped by on break. He's doing great. So great!" She laughed a little as she went on. "He told me he'd seen all his other teachers but 'saved the best for last.'"
She told me that he came in, gave her a huge, feet-off-the-ground hug, and told her all about college: his success in track, his scholarship, his leadership responsibilities. She was delighted with his success, but was a little surprised by his enthusiasm at seeing her. She said something like, "Why me?"
Shocked, he said "Ms. Mitchell! There would BE no ME without YOU!"
Whoa. Exaggerate much? I mean, she remembered him, but she couldn't recall anything special she'd done to merit the accolades. He had not even really been her student, for goodness sake. So she asked him to clarify. His response?
"Ms. Mitchell," he said. "You came back. No one ever came back. But you did. You came back."
That's all. And that's everything.
In these difficult times, when human connection has to be more intentional than ever, let's remember to keep going back. It may not seem like anything to you. But to someone else, it could be everything.