It was 7:00 a.m. on a Friday, and my husband and I were checking in our oldest baby, Addy, to get her tonsils removed. It was the first time one of our kids was undergoing a surgery, an achievement for which we are incredibly lucky compared to others, I know. I was secretly terrified, but doing what all moms do and putting on a brave face for my baby. Aaron and Addy went to sit in the waiting room while I finished the registration process with a kind lady directing me who has done this time after time. I was nervously filling out paperwork when I felt another pair of eyes on me from behind the desk. I looked up, and into the eyes of a former student.
“What are you doing here?!” I asked the familiar face behind the desk as he came around the corner to give me a spectacular hug. The last I knew, he was pursuing a degree in something non-medical, and I did not expect that he would be working at our local surgery center.
“I’m working here for the summer,” he explained. “Is Addy here for surgery?”
I nodded, afraid that showing my fear at this point would create an unstoppable flow.
He could see it. He knew. “She’s going to be fine. I know her doctor, and he’s so good and so smart. And I’ll be there with her when she goes back. I’ll make sure she’s fine. I promise.”
Sweet relief. Could anything have eased my anxiety more at that point?
I live in the town where I teach, and I live here on purpose. For moments like that. For moments when my students show up in unexpected places and save me.
I get to see my kids continue on past their eighth-grade year, which is useful, because I don’t believe in teaching students to be successful students; I believe in teaching them to be successful humans. And throughout my years of teaching, I have been lucky enough to surround myself with these humans who make my community run in a more beautiful way.
One of my former students is a lifeguard at our family pool. She regularly keeps my girls safe and happy during their summer days. Their swim team was coached by a former student last summer who taught my girls how to compete in swim meets and perfect their strokes.
Several former students bag my groceries at the corner store, several run the registers there, and others shop there at the same time I do.
Our dinners at restaurants are served by my former students, and we are seated at our tables by hosts and hostesses who used to sit at my classroom desks.
My former students volunteer at the camps I send my girls to in the summer, and they learn their names and personalities and love them even after a whole week with them.
My last driver’s license picture was taken by a former student who followed through when I begged, “Please make sure I don’t look dumb.”
Patio dinners are happily interrupted by former students who happen to be walking by and stop to talk. They will stop to pet my new puppy when we are outside, they will knock on my door to visit on a summer afternoon, and they will wave as they pass on their bikes with their friends.
I run into students whenever I leave the house — and I will most likely be un-showered and unrecognizable, and somehow will still be recognized . . . those poor kids.
This very summer a former student traveled to Europe and visited a concentration camp that we studied when she was in eighth grade. She came back with books for my future students to study — books that came directly from the very place they will learn about.
One of my former students bought a house three down from ours and walks his dog down our sidewalk regularly.
Another of my former students will begin her teaching career in a couple months right down the hall from my classroom. We will work together every day, and I will watch her pour into her students, who will also move on to change this town.
I love running into my kids everywhere, finding their faces in the newspaper, waving at them in local parades, and watching them referee my girls’ soccer games.
I can find no better incentive to spend an entire year of my life pouring love into these humans than to realize that they will soon be shaping my neighborhood and community. They will be running this town, teaching at these schools, administering healthcare, delivering food, making political decisions, and even driving on the same streets as my family members. And for these reasons, I know I live exactly where I want to live.
I live in the town where I teach. And I live here on purpose.
Kelly Cheney is an eighth-grade English teacher, mom of daughters, and major nail polish enthusiast. She would love to hear from you via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow her on Instagram @kncheney — as long as you’re strictly interested in pictures of aforementioned daughters and/or nail polish.