The heart part was that all these years later, he told me I'd been a positive influence on him! Holy smokes!
It took me a while to digest that. When you teach middle school aged kids, you certainly do not expect something like that. So much time is spent being the brick wall they run into when they get out of line, which is often. So much of the time is spent "dealing," as we used to say. At the end of the day, one is never certain what really got taught because the day is so electrically charged with hormonal imbalances, family crises, and the normal flotsam and jetsam of angst-ridden pre-pubescent youngsters.
When a message like that one is received, it's met with equal measures of pride and disbelief. I studied his picture. I teased him in my reply and said I'd have to go to the yearbooks to determine which cute little shrimp he'd been. Fact is, the more I looked at his young adult self, the light bulb went off and I remembered exactly who he was.
Quiet, smiling, and no drama. Now what lessons did I leave with that sweet kid? That's one I cannot answer. I know the rules I set, I know I enforced them, and I know the kids fought me tooth and nail a lot of the time. I was immune to a lot of their frustrations because that's the only way to stay focused on what is important: being as fair as possible (it isn't always possible to be fair, so if you have to be unfair, you have to state it up front and express extreme regret), not allowing the bullies to pick on their chosen prey of the day, and teaching the lessons required by the school board.
Aside from that, was it my gum policy? You can chew it, as long as you keep your mouth closed, don't pop it, don't blow bubbles and dispose of it properly. Break the rule and you have to dump it, but you can try again tomorrow. How else can you teach them to chew politely if you don't give them a chance to practice?
Maybe it was my "thou shalt not call anyone a faggot." I once brought in an example of faggoting in embroidery, and I drew a picture on the board of a bundle, referred to as a faggot. These are faggots, I told them. We will allow the use of this word only in these contexts. Anything else is going to land you in so much trouble you'll wish you'd never uttered the word. And yes, my friends, I followed up on that with the zealousness of Paul preaching to the Galatians.
I don't know what it was, but I'll consult Q. Q tells me that I left quite an impression on him. Not enough to ever get him to crack a book, but an impression nevertheless. (That causes both of us to collapse in laughter!)
Meanwhile, to all my teacher friends who are still in the classroom: I wish for this to happen to you someday. It will make EVERYTHING all worthwhile. Honest.
Bless you, Christopher. You were a sweetie then and nothing has changed!