The reality of teaching high schoolers is that often one becomes attached and feels rather parental towards them. This natural process occurs after spending countless hours five days a week for the majority of one or more years in and out of the classroom, both academic and extracurricular actives; however, that bond rarely translates in the same manner from student to teacher. I would say that the majority of students simply tolerate their teachers, enduring us, humoring us, acting engaged until they can escape the strictures of the classroom and move on, which leaves us feeling a bit like abandoned parents. Students will think of us fondly (or not so fondly, depending) if someone mentions us in passing or they see a random post on Facebook or pull out their yearbook for a nostalgic glance at the past (Does anyone really do that anymore?). They might run into us and give us a hug and a life update at Wal-Mart or the grocery store or see us at a wedding and speak. Most often, the bond is just not the same. This is the paradox of being a teacher and is the strange cause for the grieving done at the end of each year as the babies grow up and leave your classroom while you simultaneously rejoice at being free for the summer. Parenting is not easy. Teachers just do it with multitudes instead of a few at a time.

I know Heather understands this paradox as she now teaches her own students, but I must say that Heather was not my normal student, but I don't mean that derogatorily. She let me in and decided to keep me. That is why I agreed to take her wedding pictures and loved every single minute of the process. I felt like family hanging out all day with her family. It is a very weird sense of belonging for me.

Heather's story begins with 9th grade advanced English class, or Honors, or whatever they were calling it at Tallassee High that year as the name tended to change as often as the administration did. Heather stood out, exceptionally eager to learn, her thoughts processing so quickly that words just bubbled out in her excitement about life. I could relate--she talked as quickly as I did, maybe even faster. Then my teaching role changed and she somehow ended up being in my senior AP English class her junior year. She had to get special permission, but I knew she could handle it, and she did so with excellence, rising to the challenge and challenging the seniors in the class. Then she did something no other human I’ve ever taught has done. She asked to come back again her senior year and audit my AP English class. There was no need, but she asked, and I said yes even though having aides were not my norm.

She tried to study but I could almost see her ears perk up, listening as I taught both familiar and unfamiliar materials (as I tended to bore easily and would switch out novels and stories and poems yearly). She tried to be quiet and do her thing, but often it was simply just too much for her. She had things to offer, so I invited her in, letting her take bits and pieces and enhance what I had already done, giving her safe tasks. The teacher was strong in this one and begged to come out. I trusted her with grading things I would not have normally let out of my grasp because I liked to see everything (and yes, I still looked when she finished only to find that she usually did exactly what I would have done). She was a kindred soul of a teacher who tried to never play favorites and love everyone the same, but she made it hard to be objective.

This independent, strong-willed, musical child with an old poet’s soul who wore her hair super-short, her blue eyes piercing as she stared while her thoughts marched visibly across her face and laughed loudly with her head tilted back is the only student who ever took my classes three of four years (barring maybe one or two others who did NOT do so willingly but out of compulsion and a desperate need to graduate and escape THS . . . ). My teacher's soul is grateful for Heather and the encouragement she offered me while I taught at THS, and I am thankful she let me be one of her "school parents" for three years and opened the door again a decade or so later to let me see the wonderful young woman she has unsurprisingly become.

Joey, I would say to you that you have received a blessing in marrying Heather, and I can tell you are a blessing to her. Your life will never be quiet or dull, but it will be filled with the richness of being loved well. I could see your love for her Saturday as you quietly helped behind the scenes before the wedding, as you waited for her to walk down the hill to where you were, as you held her hands saying your vows, as you looked lovingly at her, as you kissed her much longer than I have ever seen anyone kissed at a wedding (just saying, not complaining), and as you held her tenderly when the ceremony was finished and she needed a second to decompress.

Her love for you was just as evident, and it tells me all I need to know. She values you, adores you, and wants to take care of you and share her life with you forever. 

Congratulations to both of you. May the Lord bless and keep you as you walk this life together and teach together and become parents to the many school children that pass through the doors of your classrooms and then leave them behind. It's okay to grieve for them when they leave your life. I am praying that you influence them and love them with the love of the Lord, as it is the only way to do so and leave a permanent mark on them. It is easy to love them while it is simultaneously one of the hardest jobs on the planet. But it is worth it. I was reminded of that this weekend, and I appreciate the sweetness of it. Love y’all!