In the process of reaching for my billfold, my eyes met a gentle smile, long blonde hair, and the eyes behind those glasses...my heart skipped an entire measure, and any liquid in my mouth spontaneously evaporated making its way to the palms of my hands.
Quick science lesson: when the mind processes a visual image, it almost simultaneously integrates that image with previously stored images related to satisfactory and unsatisfactory experiences, and ascribes a value or meaning to that image. ie: tears means someone’s crying, me doubled over means my NCAA bracket is officially busted, and the trembling I experienced from looking into the eyes behind those glasses means my toughest teacher from my hardest class, Mrs. Rachael!
After my body malfunctions stabilized, I was able to muster the courage to get her attention just before she walked out the automatic doors. *childlike* “Mrs. Rachael!? It’s me! Reggie!” She stopped, but there was an obvious emptiness in her expression. “AP English IV, Fossil Ridge High School!?” Her ‘oooohyeeeaaaaaah’ moment was moving at a grass-growth rate. Desperately trying to jog her memory, “Ummm, let's see, 10 years ago - you were just finishing your Masters! Told me that I should write more because people would read it! Uuuuuh, you'd stare into the depths of my soul when I turned in sub-excellent work then tell me, ‘you know better - do better!’" Still nothing. "Oooooo! Remember, we cried in celebration when I made a 3 on my AP exam???” The charade finally broke. “I’m so sorry Reggie, I’ve been teaching a long time and have just had so many students over the years...I have no idea who you are.”
“But, I can tell you’re one of my students, because I USED to say that all the time,” she mused. “Well, what are you doing with yourself these days?” Dusting off the shock, I picked up my pride, and puffed out my chest in preparation to own this big moment, “I’m a teacher!” Fully expecting confetti and a huge hug to accompany the 7 piece string ensemble that would consecrate this magical moment, I was quickly sobered by utter disgust in her “Uuugh!” She went on to explain that teaching just isn’t the same anymore. There was a time where someone would’ve had to physically remove her from the classroom, but now, hobbled by sanctions that completely enable students, she had grown to a place where she, and I quote, “Hate[s] these spoiled kids - I’m doing my 4 years and I’m done!”
Appalled but not broken, I fought back. I reminded her not only why teaching is THEE noblest profession, but conjured the personal reasons she answered the call so long ago. I stressed the importance of positive role models in the lives of today’s youth, and how simple words of affirmation like “you should write more because people would read it!”can shape futures. I challenged her to rebuild the boundaries of her legacy, extending them beyond where she had staked her claims, to reconnect to her best self, because after all, someone like me WOULD remember who she was - a gentle smile, long blonde hair, and the eyes behind those glasses. The eyes that saw my struggles with reading and writing and turned them into strengths. The eyes that understood a future NBA all-star wouldn’t need to read or write on the court, but made me read and write in class anyway. The eyes that would galvanize me to action when I was content with a mediocre to average product quality.
I was in the zone and I knew it, I could feel the energy pulsing through my veins and gaining momentum. With each listed item, I became more intense, more focused, more passionate. And just as I was about to serve up the final course of Food for Though, her tears turned to torrents. Locked inside a consoling hug, fully embracing the moment, it hit me...the magical moment I had desperately hoped for earlier, happened...just in a way that I would've never expected. On this springy Saturday, in front of the automatic exit doors of Home Depot, the student had become the teacher.