As a former high school teacher, one of my greatest joys is watching as my “kids” grow up and start their lives on their own. I feel incredibly lucky that I maintain such special relationships with so many of them. Many people do not understand (nor do they think it’s normal) that I have been able to do this. If I’m being honest, I consider it a gift, because fostering lifelong relationships is something that you will never learn how to do in any education class in college or in graduate school. I am humbled and honored when my former students choose to keep me in their lives because it validates my life’s work somehow.
So today, let me tell you about Ashley. She was a freshman when I first met her. She was sweet, and enthusiastic, and she was an amazing student. Her smile always brightened my classroom, and I was lucky enough to teach her again when she was a sophomore. She was an asset to any classroom because everyone loved her and she set such a great example for the others. I got to know her extremely well, because during those years, I also ran a very successful Walk MS team, which I ran as a school club. She devoted endless hours to our fundraising efforts and to raising awareness of Multiple Sclerosis in our community. Basically, if I could have cloned Ashley and had all of my classes full of more Ashleys, I would have been ecstatic. Coincidentally, Ashley has a little sister (who is equally as awesome), and through the years I have forged a special friendship with their mom, too… how lucky am I to have these three amazing friends just because Ashley was randomly placed in my class when she just 14 years old?!
As luck would have it, Ashley chose to attend my own alma mater, Rutgers University. Not only was I beyond proud, but I was so excited that she would be living just a few miles away from me. We had meals together here and there, and always, ALWAYS kept in contact. Perhaps you can imagine how I felt when she graduated at the top of her class and got herself a full ride to Seton Hall Law School.
I celebrated Ashley’s bridal shower with her (seated next to her mom, of course). I watched her marry the love of her life through my tears of joy, and was honored to be seated with her parents (now my friends) at her wedding reception. Similarly, Ashley (and her husband) were there to celebrate the renewal of my wedding vows with me and Bruce. They were also there (with her mom and sister) when my husband threw a party for me for finally earning my masters degree. These are life moments… milestones, really, that we have chosen to share with each other. No conscious decision was made, we simply allowed our friendship, born out of mutual love and respect, to grow organically as the years passed.
Now, more than 14 years since I first met little Ashley, she is married, she owns a home, and she is a damn good attorney. (I keep tabs on her because she happens to work at a law firm where one of my best friends is a partner… the epitome of the expression “it’s such a small world”!). I treasure the relationship I share with Ashley (not to mention the ones I share with her sister and her mom), and I do believe that my world would be a much emptier place without all three of these beautiful (both inside and out) women.
Now, that little girl who brought sunshine and smiles into my classroom every day continues to do so, especially when I recently learned that my little Ashley is going to have a little one of her own! My heart almost exploded when I found out, and I feel as happy as I did when I found out that there was going to be a baby Rankin (in the form of my own nephew) on the way. I feel like I’m going to be an auntie again, and I offered myself up as a go-to baby sitter, because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Ashley & Co.
Not every single former student of mine occupies the same special place in my heart as Ashley does, but the ones that do know that they can turn to me for anything. I may not have had children of my own, but I loved all of my students as if they were mine. Fortunately many, like Ashley, have been able to transcend the teacher/student relationship and we now share relationships as human beings, without titles.
I knew I’d never be rich when I chose to become a classroom teacher, nor would I earn bonuses or even be given accolades that are so prevalent in the private sector. But because of the profession I chose, my heart and soul are full of love and pride, which makes me richer than I ever thought I could be. And while money is nice and we all need it to survive, I guarantee that the bonuses I have been given are way more special than any amount of money I might have earned. Money is quickly spent, but what I have been given will last me a lifetime.
I love you Ashley, Bobby, Britt, Diane & Greg! Thank you for being part of my special extended family! xoxox