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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Monday, I got this email.

A couple of years ago, I had a student in one of my classes. Let's call him Shane. Shane was the proverbial king of the odd duck club. He was sweet and mostly worked well for me. He was also gangly, and lopsided, and silly.

Shane had a few friends. He also had a few students who saw him as an easy target for teasing.

I never quite figured out why he was picked on. It wasn't like he couldn't handle himself. He knew how to hit back verbally. He knew when he was close to the edge and needed to bring in an adult or remove himself.

He didn't cringe or cower or cry.

Sometimes, I think the teasing was actually a form of flattery, an acknowledgement of his strength, a poorly formulated offering of friendship from a few who didn't quite know what else to do.

Because of his awkward social position, Shane always needed a lot of love. His love language was attention and touch.

At least once every day when he had my class, and most days the following year, Shane came by my door for a hug and quick pep talk.

Most of the time, he had no complaints, no worries. He just wanted a little extra attention. Occasionally he brought his troubles to my door. He would tell me about his frustrations with other teachers, his worries about his grades, his adolescent arguments with his friends, his angst over his home life.

Last semester, Shane came and told me he was moving. We were both sad, but I wasn't worried about him. I have always felt confident he was going to be ok.

Monday, I got this email:
"Hey Miss H been a while hope you didn't forget about me. Just wanted to let you know how grateful i was to have you as my teacher. I know  i could be real goofy at times and was a pain at other times as well but if it wasn't for you i don't know if i would be the person i am today. i could always come to you when i needed someone to talk to so i just wanted  to say thank you for everything and i miss you dearly maybe i'll come by when i get the chance . But anyways i know your teaching so shoot back a email whenever you have the chance from the best Shane D."
It was the nicest and most random reminder of why I love what I do. And it came at the perfect time: amidst the frustration of pre-spring break, pre-testing, Spring.

It took me until today to respond. I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. I also wasn't sure how to maintain the professional distance required by my state, my district, and my conscious.

Here is how I responded today:

"I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I definitely haven't forgotten you! Your email meant the world to me because it came at a really busy, stressful time of the year and reminded me of why I love teaching. I am so glad you remember me fondly. I miss your occasional visits, hugs, and silly smiles. I hope you will keep in touch or come to RHS for a visit to let me know how you are doing."

I probably should have told him I can only him via my school email. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't intentional discourage this kid from reaching out. I tried, and hope I succeeded in balancing support, professionalism, and genuine appreciation.

I wanted to share this email exchange because it was a good thing for all the obvious reasons. It was also a chance for me to reflect on how to maintain those positive relationships in a professional manner. 

It can be hard to find the right balance, but it is so important. I wonder how others handle this balance. Please comment if you have struggled with this too.

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