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Chuck Brooks: Teachers getting ready to change lives

A couple of weeks ago, one of my former students, a 2017 grad, reached out to me for a lunch date prior to him returning to college. He'll be a sophomore in college this year.

About a month ago, a former student of mine, a 1992 grad, reached out in response to what he had been reading in my nightly blog. I had been whining about having to do a total overhaul on my garage and not only did he offer to assist, but once we began, he insisted on seeing it through to completion before returning to his day's responsibilities.

Before summer got into full swing, another of my former students from about six years ago wanted to connect before beginning his summer adventure with a drum corps, traveling around the country until mid-August.

If you're not a teacher, you haven't a clue about the bonus component to our jobs long after our students have left the classroom. And yet, perhaps you fall into the bracket of people who, as alumni, tried reconnecting with at least one teacher years after you were out from under their instructional eye. I did as did my brothers and sister.

Connecting with a former student in the next phase of his or her life is exciting for any teacher. It's not we doubted they could do it (although I had serious doubt about some), but it's actually seeing them experiencing life as adults.

Every May now, the high school takes the senior class in full graduation attire and marches them through the parking lot and up to the elementary and middle schools to parade them through the hallways of both schools, showing the students in both buildings what it's all about. The sight of their former pupils having reached that much-awaited pinnacle of their eighteenth emotionally moves the teachers who are also in the halls. I've been told it's quite a sight to see.

Then, imagine what it's like for high school teachers to see these same people who they knew, in some cases, for four years only to have them re-emerge one day as adults in their 20s or 30s or older. Speaking for myself, it makes my heart smile.

I recently ran into a student at Hy-Vee who is now 24 years old. I hadn't really seen him

since he left RHS. We got along exceptionally well when he was in my classroom. He was not a stellar student, but his personality was such that it was difficult for someone like me with my personality not to make a connection with him.

He was a bit of a smart aleck, which I enjoyed, only because he was merely returning what I would dish out. He was mature enough to know what line not to cross. His passion was baseball and that bonded us tightly.

When I saw him at Hy-Vee, I ran my cart lightly into his hip. He quickly had a reaction to see what idiot couldn't drive a shopping cart, only to see me, yell "Brooks!" and step forward to give me a big hug. It was pretty much awesome. He was with his girlfriend and introductions were made, we bantered a bit before allowing him to move along as he was on his lunch hour. Happy heart.

I've been more than blessed to have so many of my former kids remain someplace in my world. It's so nice to see them having survived lives that, at times, have been more than challenging. I taught them how to read and write better, but I always wanted to help them be better people. Having lunch, dinner, coffee or drinks with them and learning of the roads they have followed since leaving RHS is, for this writer, satisfying. It never hurts them to know they still have their teacher in their corner, now and forever.

I know not every educator feels quite as strongly about this as I do, but I also believe many more do than don't. We went into the business for kids. Whatever else got in the way, kids were always at the core of our intentions.

Along the way, unbeknownst to us, we made some friends who would pop up at unexpected moments in our own journeys through life. I owe a lot to one student who, many years ago, essentially saved my life. Had he not called me years after seeing him graduate in 1986, out of the clear blue one summer's day, I'm not sure where I would be today.

With school two weeks from starting, teachers have no idea which lives they'll change. One thing is for sure, however. They WILL change lives. And lives WILL change them. Guaranteed.

The State Fair is next week! Who doesn't love a fair and fair food? The midway at night whisks me back to my childhood. Perhaps we'll be talking of such things next week. Perhaps.