Monday, January 31, 2011

Like A Book I Once Read

Once upon  a time I taught in the public schools. That experience sits so far in the recesses of my brain that it often seems as an old friend used to remark on his first marriage, more like a book I read  as opposed to a life I lived. But it is not a made up story. It was real life. My life.

It never felt like a good fit. My sites were set on much bigger aspirations than living out the next several decades in a suburban setting teaching seventh grade English. The bureaucracy was stifling. The structure of the days suffocating. I tried to make it work. I switched grades and subjects. I served as a Union rep and coached the cheerleaders.  I feared I might transform into one of those angry teachers who hated the kids in her class and counted the days until she retired. Whose students hissed about her when she walked out of the room. So I left before things got ugly. I suppose that when they talk about what has gone wrong in education that I am one of those "good" teachers they couldn't keep in the system.

When people asked me if I would miss anything about it, my reply was easy. I knew I would miss the kids. They were the reason I had wanted to teach in the first place. To make a difference in their lives. They were the ones who made me smile.

Every once in awhile I have tripped over a former student.  Once back in my radio sales days, the bouncer walked up to me at a station promotion at the old Woodbine Inn in New Jersey as my hand gripped the stem of a martini glass. He asked if I was Ms. Tombrakos and had ever taught seventh grade.

A few months back I received an email through this blog from another student who informed me that I was the one who taught him the meaning of the word gumption. He had decided that based upon reading what I have been up to  since the days he had been my student that I possessed that characteristic.

And now just yesterday I received a series of Facebook friend requests. I checked to see who these folks were and what I found was not only three more former students but the thread of conversation that had them find me.

"Anybody remember having Ms. Tombrakos as a teacher?"
"Yes, I was a Big Fan!!!"
"She denied my request."
"Maybe she has boundaries."
"She was a nice teacher."
"She had a lovely smile too."
"I just looked her up. Wouldn't she be a little older than that Joanne lady looks?"
"She could have used pictures from years ago."
"Go to her blog."
"It's def. her!"
"She just accepted my request but I don't think it's her. It's just a coincidence."

No coincidence. It was me. I was moved and a bit humbled to think that I might have made enough of an impression that they remembered anything about me.  As I said, for me it is like a book that sits on my shelf gathering dust.

The thread of conversation implored me to open that book and reflect on that period in my life.  The young me, fresh out of college, wearing pleated trousers with permed hair, driving a 1977 Camaro with no air-conditioning, and living a life completely different than the one I do now.

What I can't get out of my head is that from the beginning my desire has been to make a difference in other's lives. Then it was in the kids teaching them a word they might never forget. Today it is through my writing and coaching.

I'd lost that part in my Corporate America years. That feeling that I was contributing to anything bigger than the difference in a revenue line. I left to get that back. The funny thing is until this little sojurn down memory lane, I had forgotten that I had been making a difference all along.

Are there parts of your life that feel more like a story about someone else than your life?
What is the work you are supposed to be doing?
How are you making a difference?
How has Facebook reconnected you with your past?


Colette Martin said...

So were the cool seventh grade teacher in another life... wow! How great that your students found you! (and of course you don't look as old as they would expect you to!)

Suzi Banks Baum said...

Yes, there are parts of my life that seem like a story, for sure, though most of it feels like my own story.
Facebook has been an unexpected treat for me. I resisted it for a long while and still hold my 13 year old off from it until she graduates 8th grade. I think boundaries are important, no matter how many people are on FB. For me, it has been a circling back to so many different people- having them in my life again is so sweet- FB smooths out certain connections I might never have maintained with ease- especially those early connections. Just recently I posted photos from my first year in professional theatre and the comments from others in the photo are a testimony to the impact we had in each other's lives. Where else could that happen- except maybe at a reunion or funeral? Facebook has had a sweet impact on my life. And I love hearing from people every day. Thanks for food for thought Joanne! I am sure you were a wonderful teacher. I remember Elizabeth Webb- a young strong smart College Prep English teacher my senior year- she had a major impact on me and my writing. Thanks for reminding me of her! Love, S

Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities said...

I love this. How time and technology have reminded you of desires and dreams you once had, that you clearly very much still have inside you.