I first met "Sara" (name changed...) when I substituted for a fifth grade class in a very nice elementary school. It was an organized classroom with a great group of kids, but there was this one that made the job a little more challenging. She was a spunky little redhead with a mega-mischief smile, who loved attention and seemed to crave getting in trouble. It was a long day because of her, and I had to assume the whole year must have been a long one for her teacher.
Fast forward four years (I think - because I think she was an 8th grader...). I was asked to take on an extended substitute postition from January to June in the middle school that I used to attend. In fact, I was asked to take over for a math teacher that used to be mine... He had to leave for health reasons, his blood pressure had soared through the roof. After the first day of seeing his classes, I had no doubt why. The sub notes from various "guest teachers" that those classes had gobbled through were ominous as well...
It was certainly not an easy 5 months for me. There was a lot of high drama in our personal lives (Riles Audio was crumbling) and daily, I struggled with kids who either didn't care about math, or didn't care enough to pay attention so that they could understand. There was one particular class of 8th graders that was very small, but very tough. They definitely fit the first category. On one of the first days, one of the gentlemen in there received a referral for throwing a pencil that ricocheted off the overhead and stabbed me in the hand- he didn't mean to, but...
Among that group was, wouldn't you know, Sara. I don't even know if she remembered me, but one look at that red-headed grin and there was no forgetting her.
I was at a total loss on what to do with her. Her desk was completely set apart from everyone else because she seemed incapable of not completely distracting anyone she was near. If I sent her out in the hall, I could not be guaranteed she'd stay there, and sure as anything, I'd be making a lot of enemies with other teachers if I stuck her in there. Plus, she was supposed to be learning about math. Despite my best efforts, she earned a string of referrals - I didn't want to, but you had to do something about the absolutely inappropriate stunts (and four letter words). Not that it meant a whole lot, but I think, deep down, we both liked each other, but I could not figure out how to get through to her- especially within the realms of a 45 minute math period.
By the following September I had a permanent position in the middle school - teaching math, pe, ESL, science, and health (sex ed). Sara had moved on to inhabit another teacher's classroom and left a lasting curiosity mixed with sadness as to what would be her fate. She was a very intelligent girl and it bothered me greatly to consider how, more than likely, that would be lost through the choices she made.
So - back to the present. Yesterday, Mikayla and I were at JC Penney purchasing some shoes. At the counter a polite redhead smiles at me and says "Hi". It took a moment to make the connection, but it snapped and I said Hi back. I was actually putting some items on hold, so I knew I'd return to the counter, with perhaps an opportunity to make sure it was truly Sara that I was seeing. When I returned, I saw her nametag and made a "positive id". This was our dialogue:
Me: So how are you doing these days?
Her: Big grin, really good!
Me: If I remember correctly, you were a bit of a handful when you were my student - are you still up to trouble?
Her: No, I've changed a lot - I go to church now.
Me: (increasingly surprised...) Really, what church do you go to?
Her: Crossfire (an Evangelical church aimed at youth) - Yeah, and Lord willing, I think I might have figured out what I want to do with my life. I've been in Bible College for three years, and I think I want to be a pre-school teacher.
Me: (Chills running through me) That is so great, this is my daughter, Mikayla - she's four.
Her: Major enthusiastic greeting to Mikayla.
Me: Wow, I'm so excited for you - so, what got you to church?
Her: (Sheepish) Well, I was actually under House Arrest and that was the only place I could leave to go to.
Me: (Blinking back tears) Wow, what an amazing testimony you have - Praise God!
Her: Yes, what a blessing.
Me: You're going to make me cry - God Bless!
I couldn't leave the store without tears running down my eyes - and couldn't get through the subsequent conversations with John and Michele either. I'm so thankful GOd allowed me that glimpse into the changed life of His creation - what a miracle.
Alright - completely changing the tone, ironically, yesterday I ran into another former student that I had the year following Sara. This was our conversation.
Me: (Walking out into a parking lot with Michele in Salem)
Him: Mrs. Riley - Hey, Mrs. Riley!
Me: (Completely confused because, in Salem, I'm used to being mistaken for Michele -and I didn't immediately recognize him) So, how do I know you?
Him: You taught me sex ed in 7th grade!
Me: (Still not thinking straight, but trying to match the mood of this fun-loving 21 year old walking into Applebees with a group of buddies) So, how's that been working for you? (Like I said, the first thing that popped out of my mouth...)
Him: (Turning red with a huge grin) Um, pretty good - but, by looking at you... it seems like you've figured it out! (referring to the group of 5 kids between Michele and I)
Me: Laughing and blushing, well, yeah, just remember I am married!
Not sure I handled that conversation so well, but apparently I must have made some impact- Too funny!