In 1985 or so, I was standing in a McDonald’s near my high school. While I was waiting for my order, one of my former teachers asked me if I was Michael Clapper. I recognized her. I had been in her class the previous year and had been a, um, troubled, student. Still don’t know why I was struggling and it’s probably a tribute to the class that I can recall what we read — a biography of Lenin, a biography of Ghandi.
Still, after her gentle inquiry about how I was doing I’m pretty sure I said something like “I’ve got it figured out.” I know that she said something like “I’m glad you’ve got it figured out.”
About a week ago I was sitting with a student. I was trying to point out a series of not-so-great decisions. I was trying to gently explain there’s no on-off switch in real life. I was trying to express my worry for next year — will she be able to survive in a setting where there aren’t lots of adults looking out for her?
She said something like “I got this. Really, I got this.”
Joan Didion, On Keeping a Notebook
I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.
Me at sixteen. Sigh. I wish I really had figured it out. I hadn’t. But I remember that part of me well enough not to browbeat my student, to pause, to nod, to say “I hope you got it.”
And there’s a kind of bittersweet feeling, to know that all I can do is try and keep the faith in this student, in the opportunities we’ve provided, the experiences we’ve created, the advice we’ve offered, the community we’ve tried to make with her, alongside of her, and sometimes just near her.
One of the great parts of our model is that we spend so much time with students that each of them glows with potential. You’ve had the chance to see them in so many different spaces and under so many different conditions that you can feel how alive they all are with possibility.