You look like someone I used to yell at a lot

When performing, I sometimes tell stories about teaching. I change or leave out the names, of course. I’ve often been told I should write a book of stories from my classroom, but I don’t think I could make it work. When James Herriot started writing about his veterinary adventures in All Creatures Great And Small (which you should read right now if you haven’t), he usually had the chance to follow up with his animal patients. Not all of his stories end happily, but he nearly always gets some sort of closure. In teaching, we seldom find out how our kids do after they leave us, so most of my stories work as anecdotes but not as full-blown narratives.

Once in a while, though, I run into a former student. It happened yesterday in the parking lot of a market in Eagle Rock. I was loading my purchases into my minivan when I heard an almost-familiar voice behind me.

“Mr. Griffin?” I turned and saw a good-looking young Armenian-American man. He introduced himself, not sure if I’d remember him. At the time, I vaguely remembered a kid who looked a little like this guy. If I remember correctly, I had to get in his face about… well, a whole lot of things.

In my addled brain, the memories of former students can be a bit fuzzy– I’ve had over five hundred by now– and it wasn’t until later that more of the details came back to me. Fifth grade, circa 2002. Nice kid, but with a cutting wit that often got him in trouble with teachers in the classroom and with bigger kids on the yard. Small for his age, but would sing operatic arias (beautifully!) in a huge vibrato to amuse the girls… during my lessons. Do you know how hard it is to yell at someone while you’re laughing? Exceptionally bright and articulate, but had some trouble reading at grade level, though we never did diagnose a specific issue despite numerous assessments. I eventually recommended he repeat fifth grade, but he told his mom (!) he refused. I cautioned him that I was worried for his safety in middle school; I urged him to lay off the witty remarks at bigger kids’ expense. Within a few weeks of going to middle school, he came back to visit with his arm in a cast. Got into a fight defending the honor of a young lady, the way he told it. In short, he was one of the kids all the teachers liked but worried about.

At 20, he’s doing well. He finished high school and is now in a culinary arts program. He’s going to be a chef! I walked a little taller the rest of the day. And if I got any of the details above wrong, I hope he will correct me.

So, a thought to share: if you’re an adult (that part’s important) and you wonder whether your former teachers would like to hear from you, be assured that we would. Just as a gardener loves to see the fruit of a garden he helped plant years ago, as a construction worker likes to see the house he helped build, teachers love to see the grown-up versions of their students, even if we have trouble remembering who you are right away. Most of us can be found on the various social media if you look. So go ahead, make someone’s day.