Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Danger of High Expectations (They'll be Exceeded)

Today, while in a very public, otherwise mundane spot, I ran into a remarkable person. This person had been a student of mine early in my teaching career, one with whom I had been very close. While sipping coffee and catching up with this now-very-adult-parent-person-who-I-had-known-when-he-was-only-sixteen, my nervous system attacked itself, and I felt shaky and clammy-skinned. It had been years since I had seen this kid, and now he was no longer a kid--what would he think of me? Teachers have such a strange professional static quality in that we are adults when students meet us (not that we don't grow and change, but often in less obvious ways) while our students are constantly tranforming creatures that defy prediction. My former student didn't seem disappointed by me away from the classroom, brought down to everyday human size, perhaps because he was more concerned with what I thought of him.

He told me that he had driven by the school many times, always wanting to stop in, but his doubt held him back. He raised his right hand head level and said, "I know you always expected this," and he raised his left hand to his chest, "but I've only achieved this, and I didn't want to go back and tell you that."

Oh, my chest fissured into little chunks of remorse when he said that. Yes, I did want great academic things for him, but because I thought he'd love college and the opportunities that it would provide him. I knew he'd love the debates, stories, and self-exploration that are part of the college experience. I also wanted for him all the career opportunities a college degree promises. But this kid, this man, has achieved greatness. He's taken responsibility for his new family, working hard at his job to move up the ladder quickly enough to purchase a home for his child to grow in. As he completed everyday tasks in his office today, I could see how his peers responded to him with respect and humor. He's busy teaching his son to walk and to grow up to be as kind a man as his father. And, he still has that smile that breaks his face into two happy crescent moons. I am so proud of him and what he's achieved. I told him that; I hope he believes it. I hope that he's as proud of himself as I am of him.

I expected greatness out of him, and he's giving the world that and something even better: goodness. To be good in all senses of the word, for what more could I hope?

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