Still her teacher

Even though I taught Stacy in the fall of 2001 for one semester of Creative Writing, she still talks about the impact the class had on her writing awareness to this day. I remember Stacy because she holds the record for the longest paper ever submitted to me: twenty pages. The memory of her sitting across from me during an in-class consultation showing me the unfinished draft of her fiction story as she apologized for being twelve pages in and asking for more time lingers in my memory. I advised the class to cap it at ten pages. But how do I say no to someone who wants to keep writing, who knows the story must unfold to its full telling?

“Keep going,” I said.

Stacy’s twenty-page final draft remains one of the most profound and engaging stories I have in my collection of student samples. Of course, I asked to keep a copy and have shared it with every Creative Writing class since then. This is what you get when the creative floodgates are left open.

Almost sixteen years after that moment, I happened to be at a park with my kids meeting other teacher families for a play date in a neighborhood I never frequent. On the other side of the swings, two women not a part of our group were talking and packing up their strollers to leave. When one turned her head, I recognized instantly the face of Stacy, now an adult mother of two. I took the risk and approached fearing I would lose this moment if I did not.

“Is your name Stacy?” I asked genially in attempts to appear exactly as I was: a former teacher and not a creep. “I’m Mr. Hayward. You were a student in my Creative Writing class years ago.”

Her face brightened into a smile of recognition. “Yes,” she said, “and I loved that class. In fact I was just talking about it the other day.” Okay, now I was creeped out.

“No, no,” she explained, “I still love writing. I can’t get to it all the time, but it was your class that ignited the spark I needed to in order to embrace this gift.” I shared with Stacy the details of the story she had written and the impact it has had on classes since. She gasped in amazement that I had remembered and kept it. As she rose to leave, Stacy handed me her business card (she is now a high school counselor) in hopes I could find the story and send it to her.

There are two more happy surprises to this tale. One is that I not only had her story scanned and saved on my computer, but I also had a copy of her memoir assignment. I sent both in hopes she would enjoy the look back at what first opened her eyes to the power of writing. She had forgotten all about the memoir and happily revisited the experience she had on a long-ago family vacation.

The second surprise came days later when she wrote back with a confession. At the park, she had said she had not written in a while, but she had been writing lately, just a little reluctant to share it. Would I mind, Stacy asked, if I proofread the draft of the children’s book she was working on? She was already in contact with a publisher and had secured an illustrator, but needed the input of a trusted advisor on the text. Would I mind being her teacher again?

The professional relationship between student and teacher can endure even after a fifteen-year separation. “Absolutely,” I wrote in reply.

I am her teacher still.