Last week Thursday, on the eve of the holiday break, I went to a nearby Dominick's to pick up some things for classes the next day. The cashier, after ringing up three boxes of fudge mix and an assortment of cookies and treats, said, "Looks like someone's having a party."
"Yeah," I said, "I've got a bunch of hungry students to bribe." In my classes earlier that day, I asked students if they wanted to have some sort of holiday party before break. I said I'd bring in snacks if they would, too.
"You're a teacher?" the cashier asked.
"Yeah," I said, and told him where.
"That seems a little amazing, a teacher having a party for students," the cashier said.
"Really? Why?" I asked. "Where did you go?"
"Where did I go? I'm still a student," he said. "I go to Lane Tech."
"No kidding," I said. "That's where I went."
"When did you graduate?"
"A long, long time ago. Back in 1989. The last great graduating class of the 80s."
He smiled, finished ringing me up, told me to have a great holiday. "Thanks," I said. "And make sure you tell your teachers, especially your English teacher, that the teachers at my school throw parties for their students." One of the main differences between a place like Lane and the school where I'm at is that we often have to beg our kids to just show up. Hence the party. Usually on the day before a two-week break, attendance is very weak, especially in the afternoon.
As I moved to pick up my groceries, the bagger looked at me. "Do you remember me?" she asked. "I graduated two years ago. We met at the hostel." I never taught the girl, but I had chaperoned a field trip/service learning project at the downtown youth hostel.
"Oh yeah," I said, not remembering her. "How's it going?"
"Great. I work here and go to school part time."
The cashier pointed to another cashier and said, "She went to your school, too."
"Oh hi," I said, not remembering her either.
I left the store, wondering about all the kids I've taught or come into contact with over the years. If I stay at my school any longer, every person I run into in the neighborhood will be some sort of connection. Soon, my students will probably be children of former students.
It's the end of another year. Life goes on. People move on. Change. But as I reflect on who I am and what I have and haven't accomplished in the past eight years, I get that old feeling of stagnation. All the people I know, former students included, have progressed. New jobs. Promotions. Weddings. Babies.
Not I. I'm still just the Chicago Teacher Man.