Toby Karten, Vic’s Teacher-Then, Now & Forever
Being a student’s teacher has no finish line. It doesn’t start in the beginning of the school year in August or September and end at the close of the term in May or June. Being a teacher begins when you first meet a student and then continues for the rest of your life.
It was an exhausting year and it was only May. Emotional and professional events pitched my way were handled with many home runs, while a few happenings inherited were less than desirable ones-with no way to hit it out of the park. Life has a way of twisting and turning but it also has a way of happening.
On my to do list was to organize my office. The piles were just beyond control. With a few publications and professional traveling engagements completed, it was now time to look at the aftermath of the nonstop work. I took myself to Home Goods to buy some canvas bins to organize a few of the items in my office. In my mind, placing them in a pretty container was better than looking at random toppling piles. My husband and I were considering moving and selling our house in the near future. The clutter would not be appealing to potential homebuyers.
I walked into Home Goods and there I saw a former student from over a decade ago. He looked at me; I looked at him.
“Hi, Mrs. Karten, how are you?”
“Hi Vic. All ok-just shopping-how are you?’”
“I am working, and I didn’t go to college. I never liked high school so why would I like college?”
I suggested to Vic that he try a few courses at a local community college. Vic shared-
“That’s what my grandma said I should do.”
He then asked me what I have been busy doing.
“ I’m no longer working at the school but I am still teaching at the University, traveling and doing a bit of other educational things to help teachers with their students, like writing and coaching.”
“Me, I am doing this job because I need the money. But one day maybe I’ll do business.”
“What about a management program, Vic?’
“My grandmother said that too.”
I asked Vic about his sister, who was also my student. Vic shared that she too is working in a local store. And then, Vic beamed that his youngest sister just got a job as a cashier in a deli. Vic, the older brother, shared that his little sister has to learn the value of making money.
I then straightened my teaching hat and asked-
“What would you like to do Vic?”
“I don’t know,” he said- “maybe business.”
“Well if that’s your intention then you know it takes time to make that happen and you have to go through the steps. You can’t blink your eyes and it will occur-one, two, three.”
‘That’s what my grandma said.”
“OK Vic now you have two people who like you who told you that it’s going to take time, but you have to put in the time and steps to make that happen.”
Vic then nodded his head and turned to me and said-
“ Happy shopping, Mrs. Karten.”
I then went about the store aisles and found a few differently sized neutral fabric bins to put files, legal pads, journals, and assorted workshop tools that I just could not part with over the years. I was quite a sight. I was walking around the store probably carrying too many things. I should have taken a shopping cart but a kind store manager who saw my overflowing arms brought one over.
I also bought a planter- it was the spring, time to move ahead. I then found myself on a long twisting check out line. I spotted Vic smiling at me. He was still on the floor putting away items on the shelves. Then his manager called him over to be an extra cashier. Next thing I knew Vic was checking me out instead of me checking him out.
“You look tired, Mrs. Karten.”
I then shared that unfortunately last week I had to put down our dog. Vic said that he had to do that too last year.
Vic and I were at different points of our lives, but somehow we reconnected and were able to share a few moments and a few thoughts. It seemed like it was yesterday, back in that reading lesson, when Vic was one of my students, almost ten years ago. I’d like to think that the moments we shared this week would help Vic to move forward. I told him that I would definitely see him again.
As I left the store to venture into the parking lot, I came across that same kind manager who gave me the wagon. I turned to him and said-
“ I suppose you get people who complain about things but I just wanted to tell you about the great service that I just received.”
He looked at me and I told him that the person’s name was Vic.
“If you’d like you could fill out an online form, because that would really help him a lot.”
So maybe I went to Home Goods to help myself or maybe I went to Home Goods because I needed to meet Vic to realize that life is not about the piles that we have or how we organize the piles but how we organize and connect with the people that are always a part of our lives.
Our students ground us. We are always a teacher. It does not end at the close of the school year, but relationships continue. The students that we meet stay in our hearts and maybe one day we serendipitously meet again and help each other as we go along that path called life. That night I filled out an online store survey about the professional, courteous, and personable service that I received.