The middle school was all a twitter as I walked in this morning. Kids were buying tickets for the upcoming play, girls were giggling, and the sounds of bustling feet moving across the floor created an overwhelming atmosphere of positivity. I was hardly expecting this from a middle school, quite honestly. If you’ve been reading, you know that I do not, in fact, teach middle school, but I had a meeting today for curriculum mapping there. I was excited to go, not only because I love curriculum mapping (nerd alert), but also because many of my former students now attend the middle school–students from my first class, who I miss dearly all the time.
I arrived upstairs to the conference room in which my team would be meeting, coincidentally on the same floor where many of my former students’ lockers are. At this point, there was no one in the hallways, so I set my things down, sipped on my coffee and opened up my computer. I sat for a few minutes until suddenly I heard my name. Although, I suppose it would have been impossible NOT to hear it.
“Mr. France!” one of my students from last year bellowed from across the room. I jumped up and walked over by four of them, buzzing excitedly.
It seemed like only moments before the whole sixth grade knew I was there. So many kids were saying hello that I started to feel guilty that I wasn’t able to speak with more of them for longer. At times I was awestruck at just how much they had grown in a seemingly short amount of time. At other times, honestly, I felt a bit awkward. Perhaps it was partly the awkwardness that middle school students embody, but I couldn’t help but think that part of it was because we had grown apart a bit, after not seeing each other for quite some time. In the past nine months, I certainly have grown as an adult, and in the same amount of time, their brains and hearts have developed two-, maybe even threefold.
Regardless, I was beyond enthused to see them, and I insisted that some of them show me their lockers. I walked to many of them, saying hello to other students on the way. They showed me their math books and back packs, the pictures they hung in their lockers, and even pointed out one or two of their classrooms. I reached one student, one of my girls from last year, and I asked to see where she “lived” now, as well. She brought me over by her locker and said, “It’s pretty empty, Mr. France. I don’t leave a lot in there.”
She opened her locker, and it was nearly completely empty. I was a bit puzzled, but it seemed she had taken some things home the night before. However, it was not completely empty. My eyes scanned the locker, and she gestured toward the locker door.
“Look,” she said.
In the upper left-hand corner, faded from an ink-thirsty printer, was a picture of our fifth grade class, all of us with bright smiles after the fifth-grade play. Emotion began to rush through my heart and into my brain, causing a smile to creep across my face and a glimmer of joyous tears thinly coat my eyes. I remembered the memories we had and how great they made me feel, and I suddenly felt an familiar and overwhelming sense of appreciation for that first group of students who took a chance on me and let me try and teach them.
I left her locker and walked back to my meeting room, feeling painfully bittersweet, but at the same time, remarkably empowered and satisfied. This overwhelming welcoming today reminded me that I truly have the best job in the world. It reminded me that, through all the challenges that accompany teaching, the investment we put into our students and ourselves is well worth the return that we receive in the long run. Above all, though, it reminded me that my life now has more worth than it ever did before, that I have just started truly fulfilling my purpose in life, and that success cannot be measured by the number of dollars you make, but rather, by the magnitude of your impact.