When I was in high school, I stumbled across my chemistry teacher at the supermarket in town. It was completely unexpected, and I could barely process his presence before the moment was over and we returned to our respective shopping missions. I lived in a small town thirty minutes away from my high school, so my teacher couldn’t have seemed more out of place. I, like many of my other classmates, never really gave much thought to what our teachers did when they weren’t at school. I’m sure at some point in my life, I assumed that teachers just, I don’t know, ceased to exist when we weren’t crowding our school’s hallways. I wasn’t always the brightest crayon in the box.
I remember the first time that I saw one of my own students in the supermarket. I had just come home from my daily walk when my mother asked me to accompany her to the grocery store. I was dressed in sweats and had my hair piled on top of my head in a messy bun, but I didn’t think much of it before I agreed. And so when my student stumbled across my mother and me in the frozen food section, to say that she was surprised would be an understatement.
I know that my student came to several realizations all at once. For one, I existed outside of the church grounds. I actually had a life outside of my job. I had a life, and time that I spent doing things like taking walks, and a mother. Suddenly, I was not so old. I was a child, a daughter the same age as this little girl’s sister. I was not the person that she thought I was. I was more than just her teacher. I was more complicated than that. I was so complicated that the little girl just had to break down and cry when I said hello.
Most of my students do not react so strongly when they see me outside of the classroom. With my current job, there are a lot more opportunities for me to spend time with my students as something other than their teacher, especially my Confirmation candidates and Youth Group members. In addition to teaching my eighth graders, I also work with them as they complete their service hours. I have raked leaves, served pancakes, and distributed food at our local food bank with my Confirmation candidates. We have shoveled snow, sung Christmas carols to the elderly, and played games together. They have seen me in jeans, and some of them have even seen me in sweat pants/pajamas. With every service opportunity or social event that we did together, my students had another chance to see me as something other than just their teacher.
After a year or more of just knowing me as their DRE and occasional substitute teacher, I became something more. I became more human. I became someone that cared for more than just grades and homework assignments. I was not merely the person who read their essays and graded their tests. These were all opportunities for them to learn more about me. They learned that I like playing in the snow, but prefer not to shovel it. They learned that I like an inordinate amount of syrup on my pancakes. They learned that I love everything related to Christmas, and that I will never get sick of singing and/or hearing Christmas carols. They learned that I’m quick at card games, but ridiculously slow when it comes to choosing my card during Apples to Apples. They also learned that in my world, nothing trumps the New York Yankees card besides Beauty and the Beast. Unless I’m playing with a Red Sox fan.
These opportunities created a seamless transition into our high school youth group, where my students spend time participating in discussions, playing games, praying together, and helping me to plan events for my younger students. They are just as likely to sit with me at parish receptions and picnics as I am to sit with them. They know my husband and son by name, and I would even consider some of them to be potential babysitters for John. They know me well enough to really trust me, to laugh with me, and to laugh at me from time to time (for some reason, my teens think it’s funny that I don’t like my foods to touch). Some of them have even built up the nerve to drop the “Miss” from in front of my name. Though I continue to teach them, albeit in a less formal setting, I am more than just their teacher. I can be their mentor, their role model, and even their friend to a certain degree. I am confident that when I run into them at the local supermarket or restaurant, they will not respond by bursting into tears, but rather by greeting me, introducing me to their friends, and maybe even scooting over so that I can take a seat in their booth.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!