Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Way We Were

Teaching in a high school gives me a rare perspective of aging; I can see where I've been, when I am going, and often, I get a glimpse of what I must look like to my students. A few years ago, one of my female students rolled her eyes at me and said, "Ms. P, you have NO idea what it's like to be a kid." And while a piece of me secretly congratulated myself on appearing so together that this student thought I was a mature, well-adjusted adult (HA - she didn't see the package of Swedish Fish I was planning to eat for breakfast in my purse) another piece of me looked back at my high school days and the way things seemed back then, and the images we all project now.

I was lucky. For some, high school is a battlefield, one whose scars last longer than the battle itself. But I loved high school. I loved my friends, I loved being a cheerleader, I loved finding my way through those years with a combination of teenage trepidation and bravado. I loved taking my first steps into adulthood and falling flat on my face (literally and figuratively - I tripped down the stairs and fell on my chin in front of my football player crush. Well, one of them.) As an only child, I loved the closeness of our class, and the way my friends became family. I would like to think I was kind and fair most of the time, though I know I wasn't always, but whether running from the cops at Florence Park, swaying on the gym floor at one of the dances, cheering on the sidelines, or navigating our first heartbreaks and heals, we seemed to have fun all the time. 

Going to my reunion last night was as fun and exciting as high school was, and connecting (or re-connecting) felt easy and fun. The faces looked the same (although the nametags helped!), and warmth and hilarity was still underlying most of the conversations. As kids, 25 years ago, there was no way to tell that we would still be friends, or even want to, but as the night wore on, we broke off into groups, shared stories, reminisced, moved around and started all over again. There were tears of laughter, old jokes revisited, and photos taken again and again. Sure, parenthood and life in general had changed us, but not in the ways that mattered; we still have a lot to laugh about. And what stories we'll have to share with our kids - if they are lucky.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Being Saved

In a prior post, I had written about losing my students, and about the effect it has had on me as a teacher. Imagine a chance to get a piece of one of them back.

Let me start with an admission: I have hoarding tendencies. I am extremely sentimental, so the treasures my students give me for holidays, birthdays, or end-of-the-year gifts are extremely precious. Not only do they mark a sweet and specific time in their lives, but they also hallmark milestones in my early teaching career. When I was hoping beyond hope that I was reaching my students, it was wondrous  to receive a gift like the sweet shell my students painted on vacation to give to their "favorite teacher." Or the 7th grade baseball trophy with "Your (sp) the best teacher ever" taped over its base. These treasures are priceless in every way.

That being said, after a 20 year a career, I have been blessed with multitudes of cards, letters, books, and little treasures. I want to keep every one of them, and I have managed to do so fairly effectively.

I usually try to purge at the end of the year, while my students are industriously engaged in their exams, and I can sort through the materials I've collected, and no longer need. Last year I parted with volumes of potential textbooks that I received during my tenure as an Adjunct Professor at Bentley; yes, I had saved them merely because they were addressed to "Professor Pascucci" (and yes, purists, I realize I am not a true professor…yet).

But this year at Austin, there was a bit of an upheaval over the summer; the new construction and division of some of the classrooms resulted in a great deal of old things being removed from the building. Though I wasn't directly affected, my classroom got a new floor (and, thankfully, the rug that looked like the setting of multiple crime scenes was finally removed) and my enormous locked cabinet in my closet-free classroom was moved twice, and the contents threatened to explode into my new, pristine room.

So, during a particularly blue day, I decided to sort through some of the videotapes (!) that I had stored in there. And my breath caught.

For in a boyish, seventh-grade scrawl, I saw the name Steve Baxter. Steve was one of my bright, brilliant students with deep intelligence, dry humor and wit and sharp sarcasm. He loved words and writing; he was lyrical and natural and honest and artistic in everything he wrote. He was also gone from this life far too soon. And now I had a piece of him. And I had to share it with his family.

A quick scroll on Facebook yielded his mother's name, and a visit to the White Pages gave me her number. Terrified but determined, I placed the call, and when her machine picked up, I said something like this, which was what I left as her Facebook message: Hello, Mrs. Baxter,
I was Steven's English teacher at Austin Prep years ago; I still teach at Austin, and I found a video Steven and his friends made in grade 7. While the quality isn't super clear, Steven is behind the camera as well as in front of it, and I thought you would like to have it. Please contact me at your convenience at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.
Marla Pascucci-Byrne

Within an hour, she had called me, and was on her way to meet me at school. We embraced in the doorway and reminisced about her beautiful son. She gave me the advice to "enjoy my beautiful children" before she left to bring the video to Steve's father, as today was his father's birthday, and they planned to watch it together. 

In a confluence of chance and clutter, I had made someone's day better, and, at the risk of sounding trite (which wouldn't honor that bright, beautiful student of mine) maybe the things we save can save us.