To be a teacher

I spent yesterday at a wedding. It was a beautiful, intimate event at a cabin on a lake. No cell service. No 3G. No road access. Boats carried guests from the dock a few kilometres out of town for a ten minute ride down a glacier-fed lake to the cabin. All this on a gorgeous late summer day.


No big deal, right? People go to weddings all the time. The thing was, though, that I’m not related by blood and I’m not best friends with anybody from the wedding party. My connection to the event was through my job as I taught both the bride and the groom when they attended the local high school years ago.

Now, when I say I’ve taught the bride, that’s an oversimplification. She entered into the art room in grade eight when I taught art and photography. She never really left until she graduated in 2010. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, as she did take other courses, there were many, many days during which I spent more time with her than I did with my own children. She took every art course, every photography course, worked with me on the school yearbooks, helped me set up several student art shows for the community and she worked closely with me the year she graduated on everything from fundraising to transforming the gym with decorations for prom and graduation. She’s an incredibly talented artistic person and it was a delight to teach and watch her turn into the wonderful young lady she is today.

A year ago she contacted me to go for tea. My standing offer with all students after they graduate is that they can contact me anytime to go for tea and visit. Many do, and she has. More than once. The visit last year though was special as she shared her recent engagement and asked me to save the date for her wedding.

I was honoured to be there yesterday. To be invited, as a former teacher, to share in such a special time in someone’s life is humbling to say the least. All other guests were either family to the bride and groom or close family friends. I looked around at one point and realized that of all of the young adults sitting at the table, I had taught every one of them.

I couldn’t help thinking about all the connections as the day went along. I sat through dinner with a former student who earned her teaching degree last year after completing her practicum in my classroom last year. I was lucky to spend time cuddling with an adorable 6 month old baby boy, the son and nephew of two sisters I taught all through high school. I also visited with a handsome little guy who just celebrated his first birthday – another son of two talented former art students. At one point, I introduced myself to the boyfriend of the maid of honour (twin sister to the bride and another student who practically lived in my classroom through high school) and he recognized my name as it’s come into conversations – it was instant recognition on his part. Finally, when I thanked the bride, her parents and the groom, for inviting me, they were so authentically happy that I had come to share in the special day.

And it wasn’t just today. This wasn’t my first wedding where the connection was through having taught the bride or groom. I’ve also been invited to and attended baby showers and first birthdays. I’m guessing that maybe it’s a small town thing, but maybe not. I’m pretty sure that this happens to teachers because to be a teacher is to have an impact that matters in someone’s life. And you don’t have to look up at the moon to realize that an impact leaves a mark that lasts.

Teaching isn’t just a job. It isn’t just lesson plans, curriculum and helping kids learn a list of outcomes. Well, it is all those things, but it is much, much more. To be a teacher is to have a lasting impact on someone’s life to the point where, when a guest list for a wedding is being written up, your name is brought into the conversation. To be a teacher is to honour someone’s life in such a way that you become a part of their life and the life of their family, even long after they leave your classroom. To be a teacher is, at times, to become something  similar to extended family – someone who is remembered and included in special celebrations like weddings and baby showers.

To be a teacher is to feel joyful for a wonderful day spent visiting with former students and their families. To be a teacher is to share in the beautiful celebration of two lovely young people as they begin their marriage outside a cabin, on a lake, surrounded by mountains and family and friends.

And so today, in spite of chaos all around, I am more thankful and honoured than ever to be an educator. Amidst a teacher strike and a bargaining impasse with the employer, I’ll hold on to the beauty and the joy I experienced yesterday because I decided to be a teacher.

Photo taken by me from the dock at wedding yesterday.


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