When talking about students in the moment we too often hold them to who they are at that time. If they are serious and studious, we assume that that is who they will be for life, same with the students who are argumentative, disrespectful, or underachieving. In the middle of a school year it’s difficult to foresee that the student who shows little personality as a sixth grade, is still transforming into the person they are going to be.
When we talk about students becoming lifelong learners, we cannot complain that they don’t “show the desire to learn” now because they don’t like arithmetic or conjugating verbs in Spanish. The truth is, schools are artificial places of learning. Teachers are here to introduce what’s out there to be learned, but we have decided what they are going to learn, and we don’t often match it to what they “want” to learn, but what WE feel they NEED to learn. For the most part, they learn just enough of it to get an acceptable grade and move on. However in teaching third grade, fifth grade, or eleventh grade, we only get a glimpse of who they are. We get to be a small part of that journey, and I have often lamented the fact, that I don’t get to see how the product progresses.
Recently, however, (Thanks to Facebook to help with the organizing) I had the opportunity to get together with former students, now in their careers, and in their mid to late twenties. I got to catch up with them and see where their lives have gone since they were in my classroom as 7th, 9th, or 12th grade students. The first time I had lunch with twelve students and a former colleague and while we talked about the school, we mainly just caught up. We found out where life had led us. We talked about marriages, jobs, career starts and changes. We talked about advanced degrees pursued, and next steps to be taken. We laughed about stories from the classroom as well as remarked how much we had grown.
One week later a couple of my former students emailed me to invite me to have dinner with them. This time there were four of us and the dinner had the feel of four friends, not a teacher and three students. I was amazed at how interesting each of their lives were, and how much they had continued to grow as learners since I had taught them all those years ago. Each of them had unique stories and ambitions about what they wanted to do with their lives, and had plans for how to reach their goals. They weren’t the kids I remembered, even though each of them still had the same spark of life in their eyes. They had a joy of learning that continued to permeate their beings, and had found what it was they wanted to learn about most. They didn’t thank me for instilling this in them, because truth be known, it wasn’t me, it was their parents, other family members, and the collection of teachers who had taught them from pre school through college, but I appreciate being in that list. I was part of their stories, and that was plenty for me. Now they have grown up, and they continue to be learners, and I can think to myself, “Wow, my insticts were right, kids love learning.” Because even though some of them didn’t turn in every assignment on time, or didn’t always show interest in knowing the accomplishments of Augustus Caesar, they all kept learning and continue to learn.
Teachers, continue to teach the works while they’re in progress, and if you get the chance, take the time to get to chat with some of them when they are further along in their progress so that you can take heart for being part of the process. It’s truly one of the best things I have ever done.