I started my adventures into the world of education during undergrad at UNC Chapel Hill. My fulltime student teaching placement was in a 4th grade math and science class and a 5th grade reading class at Carrboro Elementary. I learned a lot from my cooperating teacher about SIOP strategies, inquiry-based learning, and teaching with standards at the heart of my lessons. I also learned a lot from my kids, like what it actually means to see a lightbulb go off for a kid during a science experiment and how exactly I should go about solving upper-elementary drama when three girls can’t be best friends because only two people can be best friends. At the end of my year, my best friend and my TA put together a little book of letters for me from my classes. I still have the class photo from that year, and I am pretty sure I can still name all those kids when I look at that picture.
I know these names and faces because I’m in the business of building relationships with kids.
Today I went to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center with my parents on our last day of vacation here in Topsail Island. We’ve been coming to this beach and to the center for the last 20 years, and it’s been amazing to watch the program grow. As we were touring the new facility, we came to our last stop in sea turtle bay where they house the rehabilitating turtles.
Looking up, I see a familiar face asking me if I used to teach at Carrboro Elementary. She’s a little taller than me and clad in rainbow rubberbanded braces and a lime green Topsail Turtle Project shirt. My eyes widened as my memory catalog flashed through all of the school pictures I’ve watched my kids take the last four years.
We simultaneously say her name and she says to me, “I was in your class!”
Naturally, I’m freaking out at this point and beckon her with arms wide open for a hug (it’s cool to hug your old teachers, especially when you’re on vacation). She asks what I’m up to and where I’m teaching, and when I tell her that I’m moving to middle school her eyes get big and she makes a silly face. She continues to tell me that she’s a junior intern (how are students I taught old enough to be “junior interns” anywhere? Is this what it’s like getting old?) at the center for two weeks and that she’s really enjoying it. We part ways after she tells the group about the sea turtles flanking her, and as soon as I walked through the exit doors I started having all the feels.
I was proud and happy and excited — I suppose I should note that I was having all the positive feels. It was so awesome and unexpected to see her there, and I was thrilled to see her in an element where she found passion. I was so proud of her initiative in being a junior intern; I was proud to see her engage in a community supported science initiative; I was proud of the young woman she’s becoming.
Driving back to the house, I stopped myself and thought,
Is this what my previous teachers feel like now whenever they see me?!
If these feelings are the same as what my past teachers feel when they check in with me, I get it. I understand it now. The investment you place in a child leads to a reward that is indescribable in its preciousness to you.
That’s why I choose to be in the business of building relationships — lasting relationships — because that is what kids remember over math lessons and reading homework.