It’s not every day a young person walks up to me and admits to illegal activity.
But there I was in the store, and one of the employees came up to me and said Hey, Mr. Heidelberger!
It’s one of the hundreds of kids I had in class during my illustrious substitute-teaching career here in Aberdeen. I used to drop into their lives randomly as their English/math/history/AP biology/PE teacher; now they drop into my life just as randomly as my waitresses, cashiers, and other odd jobbers. Usually, they remember me better than I remember them: after all, they only had to remember me, the one unexpected datapoint in their day, demanding their attention, their exertions intellectual and physical, or at least their mild compliance with frequently absurd rules. I had to remember them 20 or 30 at a time, nail down their names in five minutes (seating charts help immensely) so I could call on them to answer questions or to knock off their ruckus, then clear my memory cache to make way for the next period, and the next….
But I remember this student, as this student remembers me. In school, Pat (I remember Pat’s real name, but here, Pat is fine) suggested a greater interest in non-academic pursuits than in anything I brought to the classroom. But Pat was generally respectful, and we both went home intact at the end of each school day that we shared.
On this shopping day, I commiserate with Pat on the travails of working retail during the holidays. Busy, busy, and only getting busier… but hey, that’s why they pay you the big money, right, Pat? (Such are the gentle inanities I come up on the street; I’m much better in the classroom, where the fate of the nation depends on my properly messing with young people’s minds. This day, I’m just shopping.)
No big money, Pat assures me with rolled eyes, but enough to sustain me. Pat says something about looking forward to making more money in the summer when more work hours will be available.
—How many hours are you working now?
—About fifty a week.
—But… you’re still in school, right?
Subs don’t usually handle grades, certainly not the big grade book and report card, but a small sample of quizzes, notes on late work, and observations of dinking around give a reasonable sketch of who’s doing well and who, like Pat, maybe needs a little more time on task.
—And you’re still keeping up with all of your classes?
—Oh yeah, I’m doing better now that I’m not doing drugs.
I had no idea. I’ve always been bad at picking out who’s high, who’s drunk, and who’s naturally loopy or lazy or whatever other state may resemble chemical alteration. How many times was Pat on something at school? Did parents or teachers or the drug dogs ever find Pat’s stash? Did the “not doing” result from interaction with law enforcement?
I don’t dig—we’re in public, and even if all the neighbors around us are entirely distracted by their single-minded pursuit of salvation by mass consumption, Pat doesn’t need me dragging out details that others might hear and bleat about (though Pat brought it up, with no leaning-in whisper, as if Pat doesn’t mind the world knowing Pat’s errors, as if Pat is proud to let the world know about this course correction… and now here I am telling the story to the world… but it’s the blog world, and in Pat’s Snapchat world, I might as well be dubbing quadrophonic eight-track tapes).
—Yeah, I read an article that said marijuana damages brain function. [Naturally, our conversation has no hyperlinks, but I wonder: this article? this one? this one?] Since I’ve gotten clean, my grades are up, I’m feeling good….
—So you can feel the difference?
—Good deal. Keep working hard.
I claim no credit for Pat’s current clearheadedness. On this issue, Pat’s best teacher may be Pat. I go home with my consumer goods and a little extra dash of hope that one more student will turn out right.