So far, no one has ever reached out to say, “You were my least favorite teacher ever.” Thanks for that!
Don’t worry, Inner Critic – I know that doesn’t mean I don’t have any haters. I hated some of my teachers, and I haven’t reached out to tell them so. Plus, I’ve heard students’ favorite teachers, who I know to be terrible teachers and not great people. So just because I’m someone’s favorite doesn’t even mean I’m objectively good. Does that satisfy you? Cool. Now shut up.
For all of you who have reach out in love, with messages like, “You were my favorite teacher ever!” Please know, the feeling was mutual! You were my favorite; just not my favorite student. You were too important to compete for a stupid title like that.
It’s not fair. When you say, “You were my favorite teacher!” I desperately want to say, “You were my favorite student!” But I can’t.
I didn’t have a favorite student, and not because my great moral fortitude. I’m not that good a person. I just don’t think we were doing the same thing. Like an anemone and clownfish exchanging food for protection, or humans and trees swapping oxygen and carbon dioxide, we both had the chance to provide equal value of very different commodities.
I didn’t love you like you loved me. That’s alright. You didn’t love me like I loved you either. It was great that way.
You had only a few teachers; I had exponentially more students.
And it was not really your job to connect with your teachers; it’s the teacher’s job to connect with you. You were supposed to survive teachers; we were supposed to engage you.
How I See You
I have more and less memorable students, but no favorites. I tried to see you as you. You were not competing with other students in my mind; you were competing with your own potential – a thing neither of us knew yet…and still don’t! This may be hard to imagine since you were surely competing with other students constantly. For grades. For attention. For popularity. For the freedom to go unnoticed. You didn’t want to be humiliated, and you probably didn’t want to let me down.
I didn’t want to let me down either, or my boss. I was not sizing you up. On my best days, I was trying to build you up. On my worst days, I was just trying to avoid getting in trouble, just like you. Or being found out, just like you. I had more papers to grade than I had time for and my own fears and losses to try to ignore during the time we were together. That was me. Not a judge, just a slightly taller person trying to be my best and avoid humiliation.
You? …were just you. The best you in my class. I noticed you. I tried to know you. I learned a lot from you. I don’t know how I felt in the moment, but in my memory, I was really glad you were there. It wouldn’t have been the same without you. When I see you in old pictures, only positive thoughts run through my mind.
I was really hoping to:
- Amplify your best qualities
- Inspire a curiosity and/or wonder
- Help you build technical tools that I was paid to help you develop.
…that is, of course, on my good days…when I wasn’t obsessing about keeping my job, paying bills, and quieting my version of the same insecurities you deal with. Some days I was just surviving.
I still have days like that. I just acknowledge them more frequently. Sometimes that helps them go away, and it usually dispels the guilt that could easily cost me another hour or day or week of being present.
So, while we may not have been there for the same thing, I think I had the same affection for you as you had for me, and quite possibly more. I think that probably goes for at least most of our relationships, with family, with partners, with authorities, with friends. I’m showing up as me, appreciating the other person as me, seeing them (and the whole relationship) as me. They’ve got a whole other worldview they’re bringing. And however they see me, I’m still glad they’re there. I still think they’re beautiful. I’m still glad for whatever beauty they’re getting from me.
It seems likely that the beauty that you saw in me was largely an appreciation of the beauty I saw in you. At least, when I was a student, those were my favorite teachers – the ones who saw me or encourage me to see myself, or who guided me to turn myself into something I would be pleased to look at. I appreciated the ones who declined an opportunity to belittle me, and the ones who gave me brutally honest feedback, without being brutal about it. The ones who only treated me as only ignorant, and not idiotic. The ones who offered everything they had, and were not offended when I only took what I wanted.
If you saw that in me, and interpreted it as beauty, I accept. That is beautiful. The world needs more people who are beautiful in the way they reflect of others’ beauty.
So, thanks for the kind words. And right back atcha! You were my favorite.