Matthew was only 10 years old when he began dropping by my classroom at the end of the day. He'd never been my student but we became acquainted when I coached a team he played on. I'd invite him into my room and put him to work hanging artwork or tidying up and while we worked he'd chat about himself. I could tell he was an unhappy little guy but he claimed that his Grade Five teacher was special and that he was helping Matthew turn his life around. In fact, Matthew was so impressed by this teacher that he vowed that he, too, would become a teacher so that he could make a difference in the lives of troubled kids.
Fast forward 15 years. I am no longer teaching school but am writing novels for children and teenagers. That same school I once taught at invited me back to do an author presentation for their students. I had a terrific morning with three classes of Grade 7 students. While I was working with them, I noticed a young teacher sitting at the back of the room, listening intently, but I focused on the students and didn't pay much attention to him.
At the end of the session the students and teachers filed out of the library and back to their classrooms. I began cleaning up my books and didn't at first notice that the young teacher had returned to the library and was waiting to speak with me.
"You don't recognize me, do you," he said when I finally noticed him. He was fidgeting, clearly uncomfortable.
I shook my head. "No. "
"I'm Matthew. I used to be a student at this school and I often came to visit you in your classroom."
I'm sure my mouth dropped open. Little Matthew had grown up and done exactly what he said he was going to do, and here he was teaching at the same school that he'd once attended. We chatted for a few minutes, and then he began to look uncomfortable again. "I often think of you," he said. "And I even thought of writing you a letter. I wanted to thank you for always listening to my problems." He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked away. "Now that I'm a teacher I find that I, too, have students who want to hang back at the end of the day and talk. When I grow impatient with them, I recall how you always had time to listen to me. Remembering that helps me find the patience for my own students. I'm glad you came here today so I could tell you that."
I thanked Matthew, and we both went on our way, but for me, my life was permanently altered. I am so grateful that Matthew came back into the library and told me his story. Knowing that I made a difference in someone's life, and that it is now being 'played forward' is a gift I will always treasure. How incredibly lucky I was to run into him.
As I drove home that day I began making a mental list of people from my own past who I wish I could thank. First on the list would be my own grade five teacher. She was one of the gifted ones and it was because of her that I chose to become a teacher myself....
What goes around comes around.