What it means to teach

From the near past a student drops by. She looks so successful. You tell her you’ve just been thinking of her, which is true. At this time of year you always think of her sweet potato pies. You remember when, as a single mom, she sold sweet potato pies to get money to buy her children Christmas gifts.
She still bakes and sells sweet potato pies, she tells you, but now as a fundraiser for her church.
It’s a cause you want to support and the next thing you know you are planning (loosely planning, but planning) a sweet potato pie party for your students. You order several but suspecting not everyone will be into sweet potatoes, you sweeten the pie, pun most definitely intended, with apple pies from the local bakery. And a couple of dozen cupcakes, just for good measure.
The party begins to take shape.
A current student who makes his living playing his guitar and singing, sometimes on a boardwalk at the Jersey shore, his guitar case open at his feet for donations, and sometimes in small area taverns, agrees to provide music. Another current student shows up with three homemade pumpkin pies and something called a cannoli pie, which is spectacular. The guitar player brings a container of his mom’s homemade peanut butter candies. A young man walks in with two dozen donuts. So does another.
You send some students out for those boxes of coffee. You already picked up a case of water and several of soda.
The party’s a hit, as those “loosely planned” things often are.
Thanksgiving arrives two days later and another student from the near past sends a text message to say he is in town. After the community college he went off to New York and finished a bachelor’s degree. He’s going to make it as a rap artist. He assures you of this every time you meet.
He’s in town. Has family here. How about breakfast Friday morning? The earlier the better, he says.
You meet and wind up lingering over coffee for more than two hours. He tells you about the influence you are on his life. You let him know it’s a two-way street.
That night you have dinner with a student from your far past. Your 25-plus years ago past. He, too, looks you up whenever he is in town. He catches you up. He’s been doing this for two and a half decades. As with all of your students, you have a front row seat for his life. He seems to appreciate that you do.
The next night you’ve lined up a beer with a student from your near-near past. Seems he’s just graduated but it’s been two-and-a-half years. He’s doing well. Living not far away but far enough that your visits are rare. You never pass up a chance to see him, and if you do it’s only for a darned good reason.
This is what it is to teach. You wind up with hundreds of children.
You like it that way, but it takes a supportive wife to allow you to make yourself available for them when they seek you out.
I have one of those, too.
Go, she says, they need you. What she doesn’t say is she knows I need them as well.

Ed Ackerman