Friday, December 19, 2008


Last night, somewhere around 6:00 PM, I was on my way into the gymnasium of a neighboring southern Maine college to watch that college's basketball teams go up against my school's basketball teams, boys and girls both. I was there because for this whole semester, one of my students from composition, who just so happens to play for the college, has been asking me to go to a game. I'd dodged the issue for a long time because I always seemed to have something else to do, but last week when he gave me advanced notice--"Hey, Jess, you should come to the game next week down in Portland."--I decided that, yeah, I probably should go. After all, I was sort of crazy about this kid--he's the type of boy my grandmother would have threatened to come after for a good cheek pinching, no doubt--and I am crazy about basketball. As an added bonus, this student was dating another favorite student of mine, and she's on the girls' team.

And so that's why at 6:01 PM, as I was rounding the corner to go into the gym, to go up to the seats where my office-mate and I would be sitting, I reached up and tapped the shoulder of my tall, wind-suited student who was blocking the doors as he watched the girls warm up.

"You came!" he said. "Did you bring your camera?"

"Of course," I said.

"Good," he said. "Because I'm going to put on a show."

And he did. They both did. And I couldn't help it--I felt a little like a proud mother, a little like some of the parents who had come down to see their kids play. I announced to everyone sitting around us that I was their teacher, that they were in my class, that, in addition to being badass basketball players, they were also as smart and charming and sweet as all get-out.

Unfortunately, all their efforts weren't enough to squeak out a win for either the girls' or the guys' team, but it didn't matter. I wanted to quiz everyone on the way out: Did you see #4? She just gave a really funny presentation in class today. And how about that #55? I get to read his papers! Aren't I lucky?

But I didn't give a pop quiz to the entire gym population. Instead, after the game was done, I climbed down the bleachers and passed by my student, who was surrounded by admirers. He was red-faced and sweaty.

"Thanks so much for coming, Jess," he said. "I'm really sorry we couldn't pull out a win."

"You were amazing," I said, and I pressed a hand into his shoulder before I moved on, leaving him to his groupies.

My office-mate needled me in the ribs. "Awww," he said. "You made his night."

But it was more the other way around. I was still thinking about the last thing he said--I'm really sorry we couldn't pull out a win--and how he seemed so disappointed that I'd been present at a game where they lost. It was so cute I wanted to turn around to hug him, even if he was dripping with sweat.

I've been lucky this semester--not just with him and his girlfriend, but with a majority of my students. I can't even begin to tell you how different this semester was from last spring's. I got real lucky in the student lottery, and at the beginning of this week--our last--I felt a little reluctant to go into the classroom and let them go.

I was crazy about the twins--who told stories about their family Thanksgiving tradition: buying an extra turkey and using it solely to terrify the second twin in some way, whether it was placing it in bed with him as he slept or whipping it out of a closet as he walked by--and I was crazy about the friend they always sat between them so I didn't go into Twin Overload. I was crazy about the one student who gave a presentation in the style of a southern preacher. I was crazy about the really smart, really quick, really eighteen-steps-ahead-of-everyone-else guy in my literature class. I was crazy about the student who wrote a personal narrative about the time a woodchuck took up residence under his car. I was crazy about the girl who sat next to him and how they used to help each other revise all the time. I was crazy about my entire creative writing class.

I would do anything for those students. Anything at all. I would write them letters of recommendation. I would buy them lunch. I would take them to the grocery store and let them fill a cart with whatever they wanted. I would drive to their job interviews and give a moving speech that would convince the potential employer that this here--this right here--was an employee worth having.

And that's why I understood it completely yesterday when a few of my composition students loitered after I'd collected their portfolios, said some motivational things, and then dismissed them for the last time.

"We don't want to leave," one girl said. "We just don't want to leave you."

And I didn't want them to leave either. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

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