Through the many years, we have visited much about teaching and the joys thereof. You have learned a little about how much I love and respect former students and how pleased I am to see them whenever possible.
Recently, while Shirley Hancock and I were visiting over afternoon coffee, I asked if she had ever imagined that we would become friends when she sat in my classroom so many years ago.
She sort of gasped and looked a little stunned that I would ask such a question. I could see that she was back in that classroom and remembering that no student and teacher would ever be friends and that I was so old in those days that we would never have anything in common to discuss.
As she returned to reality, she realized that much has happened during those intervening years and that we really can call each other friend at this stage in our lives. She almost indicated that I don’t seem so much older than she now that we have become rather close. I then asked if I could use her as an example in this column because I don’t want to try to mention all those former students who have also become friends. We surely don’t have that much space, and I might even omit one or two unintentionally.
Yes, I still see a number of former students who hesitate to go beyond the teacher student relationship and who will always prefer to leave that line between us—the one that we all drew rather deeply in those classrooms. I also note that some who are even closer still see a faint line between us, and that is just fine because I am still very proud to have been their teacher and would be just as proud to call them friends should they so desire.
I recall also how I felt about some of my teachers and how I later became friends with them. I was privileged to call a number of my public school teachers friends and also to call a number of my professors friends. I can even see that line between us on those occasions when we never quite became friends. I continued to respect them but could tell that neither of us really wanted to pursue our relationship beyond those teacher-student days.
As I watch Shirley, I see so many of my former students and stand just a little taller because they each played such important roles in my life. As we visit, I can still see her as that young girl in English class and can just imagine how she must have felt when she began to think about becoming friends with one of her former teachers.
We began striking up that friendship shortly after I returned home and have now become quite close. We can meet each other on common ground as two friends do and can talk about almost any subject that comes to mind.
Even though we may always see that dim line between us, we will remain friends and will recall those days when we would have said such a friendship would never develop. Yes, being a teacher in one’s hometown is a major privilege because it leads to the most valuable rewards one can imagine.