With relatively equal parts of cheer and dread, my annual calendar flipped to an astonishing 72 last week. Kicking off the observance of the 50th anniversary of my 22nd birthday, a couple of friends brought pizza, pumpkin pie, and presents. We chatted the night away with laughter and all manner of reminiscences. Actually, those two gals are more than a decade younger than I – and happen to be former students of mine from the early 70’s.
It never occurred to me back then that I would become friends with my students when we eventually caught up with one another in adulthood. Teachers must always establish proper boundaries with students, a principle even more essential when rookies may be a mere four years older than the high school seniors they teach.
These party pals, however, came to me initially in the form of freshmen, as did most of the hundreds and hundreds of kids who passed through my classroom. In those early days I worried most about making sure my students were prepared for the next year’s course in English or German, but slowly I began to envision them on college campuses or in job situations: my oft-repeated rallying cry became, “The year-after-the-year-after the year-after-next…”
An inkling of the aging process set in when I began having parent-teacher conferences with former students about their offspring. We engaged in mutual “adulting,” and occasionally I bit my tongue to avoid pointing out behavior similarities between now-parent and child!
Mathematically, however, my first freshmen are now in their sixth decade of life, and lots of other frosh have long been appropriately-aged for adult friendships. The first step, of course, has always been calling me by my first name!
Nowadays I have many delightful friendships with the teenagers who once did my homework, took my tests, participated in my extra-curricular activities, traveled with me to distant lands. It is an aspect of teaching I never really anticipated but thoroughly enjoy. I take great pleasure in knowing that my former students are living lives filled with family, satisfaction, contribution; I am likewise saddened when they encounter obstacles and misfortune.
It just so happens that the month of February provided more than the usual number of experiences with former students. In sharing a few of my unexpected contacts with them in the preceding 29 days, I will refer to them as FF’s – former freshmen.
Of course, it is not difficult to keep up with any number of FF’s via social media. Half my Facebook friends are FF’s who share their comings and goings. It is fun to occasionally comment back and forth: just last week an FF from the 90’s described her children who are in graduate school, college, and high school – I still think of her as a twenty-something!
Also in February, Facebook allowed me to see an FF and his wife enjoying the sights in Rio de Janeiro. An FF who is now a first responder married his longtime sweetheart, and another FF who works in local government joyously announced her upcoming grandmothership.
Life continued to happen on Facebook. An FF reiterated that his faith would carry him through his regular chemo treatments, and the child of married FF’s is working through serious health challenges. Some of my FF’s and I sympathized with each other in the loss of our parents, sharing how much we miss them.
But my life is not all Facebook. Out in the community, the FF serving as UDC managing editor mentioned me in her column, and another FF is helping me with a project at a local print shop. And I cannot predict when the subject of education at Graham will arise, what with the Board of Education counting three of my FF’s as members.
It should come as no surprise that an inordinate number of my FF Facebook friends are teachers. They continued in February to share their successes, frustrations, and ideas – and sometimes I chimed in with an old-fashioned suggestion or words of support and encouragement. And I was proud once again to see evidence of great leadership skills, care for students, and happy home lives from three of my FF’s who are school principals.
I will remember February, too, as the month I received an actual snail mail letter – with a stamp and everything – from another teaching FF who caught me up on her family and life in general. And an FF who is not on my list of Facebook friends took time to tell me how much she enjoyed my latest River Road story because she loves River Road, too.
I also received a few February phone calls. One FF, who had earlier visited me to vent about a problem, called me on my birthday and let me talk with her son with whom I share my special day. Another FF phoned in hopes of stopping by, and yet another called to arrange a spring visit with a whole gaggle of FF’s!
It was one of my most important lessons to learn that those kids, those FF’s who so long ago stopped in my room for a year or two, were not merely students of English or German. They would grow up to be fellow citizens, colleagues, service providers – and perhaps even friends. I hope I realized that fact soon enough to ensure I did my part in modeling for them what life could be.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.