It took a while for me to get used to seeing my students in the wild. It seemed strange to see them in an environment where they wouldn’t be obligated to listen to me when I tell them to stop talking. I was an awkward mess when I first started running into students around town, but then something changed. I started thinking of my students like wild animals, and I finally listened to what every adult says to a child when they see an animal: they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.
Now when I see students in the world, I do not succumb to fear. I also don’t act until the student acknowledges me because I’m not that much of an asshole, and I remember being intimidated by teachers. However, once they acknowledge me, the game is on. I saw one of my first students at a tea shop I spent so much time at that I could probably have had my mail forwarded there. I did all my grading there, I met friends there, I was there enough that I could actually have a “usual” order, and it’s where I went to do glorious battle with way too many hangovers. It was my turf. And one of my students appeared there surrounded by people of similar age. From my stool at the bar, I concluded they were her “friends.” I’ve seen packs of students, even participated in a few back when I was young and wild, but I had never expected to see one within my borders. She said “hi” to me as I was paying and getting ready to leave. I was ready to leave my homeland with an invader just for her comfort, but she said “hi.”
As soon as the words hit the air I transformed from an unassuming tea patron into full goofy parent mode–I don’t have children, but that’s the only name for the magnificent archetype of deliberate buffoonery I become.
So the student said hi, and I responded by spinning around to face her with the same floppy enthusiasm a dog brings to every interaction. Hearing her greeting, I responded appropriately by loudly saying “Hi!” Then she looked to her human companions and informed them I was her English teacher. Her voice trembled, and in the moment, I assumed that was from excitement at confirming that I do not actually live in our classroom. No stranger to conversing with youths, I said “Hi Alex’s friends!” Alex’s friends did not enter the conversation with the same enthusiasm I had brought to the table, so I tried to give them something else to work with. I sighed like a boat captain returned to shore and said “weird to see my kind out in the world isn’t it,” and I pointed a thumb at myself to let them know to whom the “my” in that sentence referred. A few of the youths nodded which, to my state of mind in that moment, translated to “it sure is weird, but you’re the bee’s knees Alex’s teacher.” With this undeniable sign of approval I made my subtle exit from the encounter: I humbly tossed up some finger guns, smiled, and said “have fun and don’t forget your draft is due soon” because what student wouldn’t want to be reminded of their homework when they’re out with friends. Then I sauntered away, out the door, and into legend.