Thursday was my 42nd birthday. I’m not ashamed to admit my age. In the immortal words of New Kids on the Block, “Age is just a number, don’t you stop having fun.” Over the course of that day, hundreds of people sent tweets, wall posts, texts, Voxes, direct messages, called or gave in person well wishes for my big day, which happened to fall on Thanksgiving. You’re probably thinking that’s a big number, but to my credit, I’ve come in contact with too many people to count between my hometown and current city, college experience, professional contacts and school community.
As I drove home yesterday (a 3+ hour drive), I began to think about the myriad of people that took the time to send me a ‘birthday shoutout’ and was struck by one subset – former students. One of the pillars of my teaching has been forming lasting bonds with students. As a related arts teacher, I have the privilege of having students for multiple years, watching them mature and become more independent. I’ve stayed in contact with many as they graduate high school and go on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, tradesmen and tradeswomen, cosmetologists and too many other vocations to listen. I’ve also shed tears when they end up incarcerated, pass away or battle personal demons.
Each year at graduation, I’ve always told my graduating 5th graders that my gym will always be theirs and they are always welcome to come back and visit. Many students take me up on that offer. True, many are those that graduated within the past few months, but many are now in high school, college and now working themselves as well. Too many to count have asked advice or come to let me know they were engaged, starting a family or had chosen a profession. Seven of my former students and interns have gone on to choose physical and health education as a career, which is humbling.
There have been times when I’ve questioned if my body can continue to function at a level required to be effective as a physical educator. There have been surgeries, injections, days on crutches and too many nights on the couch with ice packs to count. Pain is temporary. As I age, the pain becomes more frequent and intense, but it does somewhat subside. The joy I feel knowing that I’ve made an impact on a student’s life is wonderful medicine. It gives me motivation and healing that medicines and ice packs cannot and it makes me more certain that age IS just a number. I may be 42, but my students, current and former, make me feel 24.