Four years ago almost to the day, I watched the Jay M. Robinson Class of 2008 graduate.  And with all due respect to all of the great groups I taught at Robinson over the five years I was there, the 2008 class was particularly special to me.  First of all, they were freshmen the year I student taught, so we came in together.  But mainly, they were just an awesome group of young people.

I cried like a ten-year-old girl at that graduation; I was immensely proud of all of the graduates, sure, but I was also watching the key pieces of the best quiz bowl team in the history of Cabarrus County leave me.  Robinson’s quiz bowl program was nascent when we arrived in the fall of 2004; by the time Daniel Hains, John Mace, Gray Cannon, Allison Stewart, and Dorothy Schrader walked across the stage, we had a state semifinals berth, three all-state players, and dozens of semifinal and championship game appearances at tournaments (my only regret is that we didn’t get over the hump and actually win  a tournament until the November after they had left).  I also taught all five of them in AP U.S. History, and they all got 5’s.

Selfishly, I wished they could stay around, but I knew they were off to accomplish big things.  And as college graduates four years later, accomplish big things they have.  When I headed up to North Carolina for a couple of weeks last month, I caught up with the guys from that group at the Flying Saucer in Charlotte (having beers with former students is really a surreal experience).  Gray graduated from business school at UNC and is off to Atlanta to work for IBM.  Daniel graduated from South Carolina (56-17, son!) and will be working with underprivileged kids at a school in the Washington, D.C. area next year.  After graduating from Carolina, John is off to law school at Campbell.  I can only hope that John’s practice of regularly arguing answers to reading quizzes with me will serve him well as an attorney one day.

Without taking anything away from what the guys are going to be doing, I have to particularly brag on the girls, because they’re going into teaching next year.  After graduating from NYU last year, Dorothy is going to be teaching middle school social studies (yes!) in St. Louis as part of Teach For America.  And Allison, who will be living about three miles from me this fall after graduating from UNC’s school of education, will be teaching third grade at Parkwood Elementary School in Durham.  From her endless supply of energy to her creative nature to her diminutive stature, if anyone was born to be an elementary school teacher, it’s Allison.  Both of them are bright, enthusiastic, and dedicated, and I know they’ll be incredible in the classroom and make a huge difference in the lives of their young charges.

Everyone always talks about education as an investment, but they’re usually talking about the person receiving the education.  But I’ve discovered that it’s really no different for teaching.  You impart your students with knowledge, try to teach them how to make wise decisions, watch them mature and grow as people, and ultimately hope that you made a small difference in their lives.  The first payoff comes when they graduate high school and go off to conquer other endeavors, but the bigger payoff comes when they find their callings and begin to make a difference themselves.

And when people ask me why I’m going back into teaching, I tell them about kids like these.