This post was written by a guest blogger, my husband, Keith:)
When I was a third-grade teacher, the beginning of every school year was pretty much the same. I did my best to relax and recharge in July, and as soon as August arrived, my brain shifted back into school-mode. Like the sound of an alarm clock, early August would mean the arrival of the “Welcome Back” email from our school district HR department outlining my classroom assignment, building information, and initiatives I would be involved in during the year. I received this same email every year, over and over again, knowing very well that this email was my signal to get back into teacher mode.
But, with the monotony of the operational aspects of a new school year came the adrenaline rush about everything that lay ahead of me. I was always most excited to meet my new students.
At the beginning of each school year, I always felt it was important to try and see each child as their best adult self. Maybe I was teaching the next Bill Gates? Or, the next Axl Rose? Or, maybe just the next Keith Westman? How would I want these “soon-to-be-adults” to remember their year with me, their teacher?
I realized this past year, that the 2002–03 school year was completely different than any other school year.
That year, a student named Samuel entered my third-grade class. He was very much like my other students: a bit nervous (because who wouldn’t be a little nervous having a 6’ 6” male teacher), eager to please, and generally happy about being back in school with their friends.
Samuel, like every student, had many strengths and passions one of which was his tenacity for perfection. I speak one language- English (the north side of Chicago dialect). I never was able to pronounce his last name with the perfect Mandarin Chinese tones that made his name special to him. Samuel made sure to give me every tip and suggestion as to how to make that happen.
But, like all other years, at the end of the school year, Samuel moved onto fourth grade and then transferred to another school for middle school.
I, too, did some growing up after that school year. I taught another year of third-grade, then took a district-level position as an Instructional Technology Coordinator, and then became a middle school principal (back with Samuel and his classmates from my third-grade class).
In 2008, Samuel graduated from my middle school and headed off to high school. That same year, I left working IN schools to join my junior high friend who created these edtech products called AppliTrack and K12JobSpot (you’ve probably all used them). So, both Samuel and I started new journeys- he began high school and I began a new career in edtech.
Samuel and I didn’t keep in touch over the years. The last time we saw one another, I was Samuel’s teacher-turned-principal- our last interaction was me handing him his elementary school diploma on an extravagant (and maybe a bit gaudy) auditorium stage.
But, one day last year, Samuel connected with me on LinkedIn.
It turns out that Samuel, once a tenacious third-grade student of mine, grew up to be a tenacious software developer during the same period of time that I grew my career in the edtech industry. Samuel was working for a large Department of Defense contractor and I was the COO of Otus, an edtech company in Chicago. Samuel had connected me with one of his friends who was looking to work in the edtech industry. We ultimately hired his friend. Then, eight months later, we hired Samuel.
When I think back to my days as a teacher, I always felt I learned much more from my students than I believed they were learning from me. I can tell you that nothing has changed. Each day at Otus, Samuel and his colleagues teach me more than I believe I help them. Moreover, I never would have expected that not only would I be in a completely different line of work than what I was doing in 2002, but I would be doing that work with a student in my class!
What’s the moral of this story? Life is amazing.
It’s true that Samuel and I both grew up over the past 16 years, in different ways and in different places. Yet, I can tell you that the bond we share, having learned and laughed together for many our formative years, and being able to pick up where we left off so long ago, is something most people will never experience and it’s something I really cherish.
As you head into the new school year, remember that you never know where life will take you or your students. Enjoy each moment and allow yourself the pleasure of daydreaming where you and your students will be in five, ten, and 16 years from now. You never know, you might end up hiring one of your third-graders and continuing your lifelong journey of learning, together.
P.S. He’s still helping me work on those Mandarin Chinese tones:)