One of the wonders of working with young people is to find out what happened to them years later, and to harken back on the work I did with them. And when you have taught for nearly a quarter of a century, there is plenty of “years later.”
I recently found out what happened to the absolute best graphic artist the school newspaper ever had, Julian Callos. He is a professional illustrator whose work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times as well as art galleries.
Then there’s Evelyn Baghdasraian who I clearly remembered telling me way back when that she wanted to become a doctor. Well, one day my wife calls me to say that she met a pediatrician at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills who inquired, upon looking at her employee badge, if she was married to me.
Soon we were reunited, with me bringing yellowed copies of her high school work (she was another student I had both in English class and journalism).
This past week Sev Ohanian paid me a surprise visit. Outside of the shaved head, he was the same old Sev—good natured, smart mind, engaging personality—that I remembered back in 2005.
What has he been up to in the past eight years? After graduating from USC film school and working on some small projects, he ended up as a co-producer on this summer’s independent feature “Fruitvale Station,” the critically acclaimed film based on the 2008 shooting of an unarmed black man by a white transit officer up in the bay area.
When he asked me how things have been, I lamented the declining enrollment in the school’s journalism program, about 40 percent less than when he attended Hoover. He seemed genuinely perplexed.
“Being editor in chief of the newspaper taught me how to be a leader.” How precious it is to hear former students realize what all the work was all about. Teachers rarely get to hear those epiphanies.
Sev graciously invited my student television crew to interview him on the set of his new motion picture shooting in Louisville, Kentucky. You should have seen how exuberant my kids were about the prospect of flying out there and doing such a piece for Tornado TV.
These are but a few of the students who have spent a short time of their academic lives in my classroom. No doubt there are other success stories and even more from other teachers in other districts in other states.
If I worked in another profession, I may not have gotten to know these talented young people. There is something special about seeing them establish themselves in their younger years.
It would be oversimplified for any teacher to claim he was responsible for the success of any former student. Can Skyline High School drama teacher Rawley Farnsworth take credit for Tom Hanks’ career anymore than a loved one can? Yes, each of us needs the support of family, friends and teachers, but ultimately it is the individual who must do the work and persevere.
Too often, all the federal mandates, district policies, bureaucracy and incompetence piles on top of a teacher, weighing down the drive and desire to do good with students. Seeing the results of one’s work with former students melts away those burdensome layers, and you come away thinking to yourself, “It’s good being a teacher.”