The Students Who Choose Us

We knew when it happened—when students chose us. They started using our words and copying our gestures. They came to us with questions about the new immigration laws, which parent to choose in a custody battle, their being a vegan, and whether an Airedale terrier or a Bichon Frise would be the better pet for them. They dropped by to see us after school and sent us e-mails during summer vacation. They invited us to their graduation parties, then stopped by on college breaks, and later brought their children to see us. These were our students.

Ben was one of mine. One morning he rushed into my room and slammed the door shut. He stood against it panting.

“I’m safe,” he said. This is my safe place.”

Ben had chosen me.

Five seventh-grade students came to me one day with a sealed envelope.

“For your husband,” they said.

I took it home. He broke the seal and showed me.

“When Mrs. Swartz dies,” the note said. “Will you tell us so we can come to her funeral?”

Those five students were mine, too.

Around the lunch table in the teachers’ lounge, we knew which students belonged to which teachers.

“Talk to Josie,” I said once to the algebra teacher. “Something’s wrong. She’s losing her focus.”

Why did Josie choose the algebra teacher instead of me? Why do students become devotees of particular teachers?

Maybe because the teacher provides a missing element or seems familiar or syncs with gifts or interests. Maybe because of a match of personality or intellect. Maybe because the teacher is in the right place and the right time.

Whatever the reason, this choosing is an honor, one of the delights of teaching, and a sobering responsibility.

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