It’s March on my first year off of teaching since 1998 and today I am missing my students. A good feeling as I contemplate going back to teach in about five months. I have been teaching since 1994 with only 3.5 years of no teaching but even then I taught summers. My largest class was 60+, a political science/art history extravaganza that I taught with my former spouse, and my smallest class was 2, a seminary in French feminism with only two students, one gay man and one ex-military man. The latter spoke excellent French, the former always pronounced vierge as verge to the latter’s great annoyance. My oldest student was well over 60 and my youngest ones have been 13.
I started teaching yoga in 1998 but have taken many breaks and taught one student at a time or 30 in a gym. I taught yoga on 9/11, I taught yoga in people’s homes, to pregnant friends, to my own friends and to so many sweet people.
My students have taught me so much. They have been hilarious, brilliant, enraging, sad, furious, resistant, enthusiastic, inspiring, courageous, confused, and so, so funny. Here’s a little patchwork of memories which I will try to keep anonymous.
Doing yoga on the beach in St Malo on a beautiful summer day with a bunch of college students who I was teaching and guiding for several weeks. Going to the beach was delightful and I think of that day every time I see a picture of one of those students doing a headstand. And another of them is a bonafide yoga teacher herself now.
A student had to leave the term early to drive to Utah with a Uhaul trailer to bring back her mother’s body. She explained the paperwork and I guess this is quite common for some families.
A student came very late to class and told me it was because of the snowstorm and he had had to sleep in a bowling alley off of the interstate the night before.
Before I left my job a student asked me a question I can’t stop thinking about: Is it better to be motivated by going toward something or to be motivated by moving away from something?
I remember a student playing her clarinet as her poetry presentation and feeling goosebumps on my skin and a lump in my throat because it was so beautiful.
In the very early 1990s, at Penn, a rather conservative place, I remember a beginning French student standing up in front of the room to explain that his partner was indeed a man. I was so impressed at his courage to come out in front of the class in a language that he was just beginning to learn. It took the other students a long time to actually understand what he meant but he didn’t give up.
During our Moby-Dick unit, an amputee student went to Home Depot and challenged the workers to help her find the materials to build her own peg leg which she then brought to class.
One year my French 1 students decided that our poetic catchphrase would be: le ciel est noir comme un ananas noir.
A tall young man student reading Joyce Carol Oates and asking the girls in the class if being a young woman often felt as dangerous as being around a bear, the only equivalent he could imagine since he was so big and male. Yes, we said, it’s like a bear, except you never know who is a bear.
Two girls in my first year of high school teaching who cried almost every day in class and spent hours sitting outside of my room to cry more. Their loves and friendships were so complicated every single day. So much weeping at age 15.
Original compositions on the saw, on the guitar, with a full rock band that were played in my classroom, all about Moby-Dick.
A student who had failed so many English classes standing up in front of a big class to read his original poetry aloud with great glee. He read poem after poem and didn’t want to sit down.
A student who started a philosophy club at lunch in my classroom and asked me questions I couldn’t answer and then diagrammed all of their possible vectors on the whiteboard.
A student who told me off for my classist attitudes on her last day at high school.
A student who could and would put both legs behind his head just for our entertainment.
A yoga student over 60 who told me one day after many months that she was starting to realize that her body was part of her and not just the flesh envelope she inhabited.
A student who was brilliant and whose education was violently stopped because of power struggles with male authority. It made us both cry when he had to leave.
I think of all of these people I have been so honored to know and how much they have to offer the world in their honesty, struggles and hilarity. I could write for hours about all of the little stories, all of the little moments that I can’t forget, the conversations that startled me, the music playing that enchanted me, the resilience that made me check my assumptions. I am sending them all love today and thanking them for showing up and giving me such an education in humanity.