I Teach to Reach

I had exactly seven minutes. I told Husband to park near the door so we could bolt as soon as I was done shopping, as in the back of my mind I was already planning the second half of the evening. The part where I would get to be a real adult and have conversations that lasted longer than five minutes with other like-minded individuals. Around a campfire. At night. Exciting. I don’t get out often.

I had one thing on the list. So of course I ended up with about ten things in the cart. I ran up and down the aisles, arms loaded with cleaning supplies, coffee and the desired item: a plastic table covering to replace the ratty looking old one in our eating area. I was trying to hurry. Seven minutes stretched to ten and then fifteen. There are a lot of things to look at in Walmart. It’s such a distracting store to shop in.

As I was going through the cash, I concentrated on getting everything on the conveyer belt as close to the cashier as possible so that I could grab my bags and run through the doors to the get-away vehicle, er’ family get-along van, directly following the purchase.

But I never counted on this happening. I never counted on the conversation I was about to have at the check-out counter.

“Will that be all?”
“Oh yes, thank you. That’s it for tonight.”

And then I smile, he smiles, and I can see a flicker of recognition in both our eyes. I am unsure, and also in a hurry. But he is not. He makes the first move to take our conversation past the practical.

“Did you ever teach at Westisle?” he asks.

I teach kindergarten at Bloomfield. It’s been a long time since I worked at Westisle Composite High School, and when I did, I mostly supply taught. I think he has mistaken me for Husband, so I say so. But then he tells me it’s been seven years since he’s graduated, and no, Husband did not teach him. So it must have been me then.
Well then.
He proceeds to tell me what his father is now doing and what his current status is as an adult. No longer the young teenaged boy I remember. We have a delightful conversation.

It is quite something to be recognized as someone’s teacher. Particularly seven years and three schools later. I am flattered. I hope he truly did like me as I am assuming he possibly did by the smile. And I secretly hope I actually taught him something.

And then I realize something. Two things actually. I probably never taught him anything, and if I did, he more than likely has forgotten it by now. And then this. I think the more likely reason he remembers me is due to the policy I have kept to over the years of making it a priority to invest my time in people while valuing relationships- because it really does make a difference. It’s what sticks long after the lesson plan is over, after the conversations have ended.

People love people who truly care. And I have tried my darndest to be that kind of teacher.

Caring about people might not ever win me any awards or accolades as a teacher. But it pays back in the myriad relationships I have formed with students and friends and colleagues. I might teach content and curriculum- readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic’, but my real job is people. And it’s what makes my job as a teacher less of an employment and more of a calling.

I teach to reach.

Anyone can teach, but it takes deliberate intention to reach. You reach people through kindness, compassion and love. Teaching people is fun and exciting, but reaching people is absolutely mind-boggling. I know because I have had in the past, teachers that reached out to me. Little did they know that I would one day pay it forward. Kindness is like that.

It truly pays to be kind. A million times over.

Kindness is an amazing philosophy to living one’s life. Kindness should be done without any thought of reciprocation. But when it does come back, you realize that kindness is kind of like a boomerang. When you throw it out there you never know when you might see it return. It might return to you when you least expect it: at Walmart when by chance you run into a former student in the check-out line. Or at the shopping mall when you happen to run into an old acquaintance. Or at a concert where a former classmate from the by-gone days happens to be standing right next to you in line. And funny about that but- people in these situations always seem to remember you, even if you don’t recall who they are.

So it really does matter that you were nice to them once upon a time long, long ago.

At times like these, it also pays to be willing to slow down and look into the person’s eyes, acknowledging the marvelous individual they are without rushing away to quickly. Impromtu conversations like these ones don’t happen when people storm their way through check-out counters or line-ups or hold-ups of any kind. These kinds of things need time so as to perculate a bit. They need a bit of thought. And they require some effort.

Because the bottom line is this: people matter. They matter immeasurably at every age. And the ways in which people view us also matter because to some extent those views define us as people too. That is, the ways in which we treat people will always be the ways in which other people perceive us as individuals. So if we are kind, then we will be known as thoughtful and caring. If we are patient and calm with people, then we will be known as composed and serene. If we are interested and genuine in our conversations with others, they will come to see us as authentic.
And the negative reverse of each of the above is of course true also.

As I was leaving Walmart, I turned to the cashier- my former student, and I thanked him. I thanked him for speaking to me. It takes courage to approach a stranger even if the odds are good. And it also takes a considerable measure of kindness to make someone else’s day brighter by acknowledging them and caring enough to tell them why they matter to you. It speaks volumes about who you are and what you value. And it reminds those of us who believe in compassion and caring that kindness is lot like a boomerang. It always returns to you. It always comes back.

So make sure you do it: pay kindness forward.  It’s worth the effort.