Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I once figured that I've had about 5,000 students in about 12 different subjects over the years. It's a bit tricky to calculate because there are two different types of class schedules to factor in and, of course, other teaching situations. Should I count the classes I taught as a VISTA Volunteer in "Rock and Blues Analysis?" Oh, it's not what you think. They were an attempt to introduce mostly white, middle class kids to ethnic studies. If you follow the evolution and development of American traditional and popular music it's inevitable to teach racial attitudes and ethnic history.
There were also the Adult school classes in ESL and something I called "A Folk History of the United States." Probably a few hundred students there over a 5-6 year period. What about teacher training workshops? Do they count? Or the "guest lessons" I've taught to model something for the student-teachers I currently supervise. No matter. 5,000 is clearly a useful figure.
Well, I was thinking that since the advent of sites like Facebook and Linked-In, it's now possible to keep track and stay in touch with many of those people. In the last 3 years or so, I've been able to do just that. How gratifying it's been to see their families, their children, their travels, their education in action. How fascinating and satisfying it has been to communicate with them, to exchange ideas, updates, memories, and future plans.
As expected, most still have trouble referring to me as Bruce. Mr. Greene is much more comfortable; so be it. But there are a few who immediately refer to me by my first name. Just a few, but they are definitely more comfortable that way.
Some, actually more than I thought, have become teachers themselves. Others live all over the globe. Still others make it a point to call or meet up with me when they come through Portland. There is even a group who meet annually in the Bay Area the Friday before Thanksgiving when they all come home for the holiday. I've been invited but yet to show up for one of those get-togethers. This year, for sure, if I go to the Bay in November.
This week I heard from a former student I had in class about 25 years ago. It often takes a minute or two to look at the profile picture on Facebook, figure out if there is a maiden name, or another name or even in a few cases, another gender. But the "friends" we share, if any, usually are the most help. In fact, I think that's how they find me. And I let them find me. I still don't feel comfortable initiating the contact. Not everyone might want their high school teacher in touch with personal information. Only rarely have I "friended" a former student. My intuition is strong enough to know that it was OK to do that. The day after Obama's election victory would be a notable example.
Lately, I've come to believe that each month, each year will result in getting in touch with a few more. Steadily, I reel in a few more. I've yet to be disappointed.
Last week, as I wrote a letter of recommendation for a beginning teacher, it occurred to me that I've only written 3 or 4 of these letters this year. Up until 5 years ago, I would write between 40 and 50 letters. Thinking further, I realized that the last students I taught have graduated college this year...at least most of them. No deluge of letters, but a trickle of "friends."