One afternoon, a week before the end of the past school year, I was washing my hands at the classroom sink. When I was finished, I turned to walk to my desk. Instead, I slipped on a pile of student backpacks left sprawled about on the floor and soon found myself sprawled out next to them.
I tried to play off the pain that was shooting from my right hand to my elbow and all the way up to my shoulder. It was bad enough that my ego was bruised and on display for thirty seventh graders to see. I really didn’t want to admit any other bruising that may be emerging as well.
Workman’s compensation papers completed, I headed to the assigned clinic where I was quickly examined and then prescribed several sessions of physical therapy.
A few days later, I arrived for my first session. The therapist walked into the lobby and called my name. He asked, “Do you remember me?”
I am embarrassed to admit: I remembered his face, but my brain could not quickly supply his name. It turns out that my physical therapist, Dr. Brandon Olson, was once a student in my fifth-grade class – twenty-four years ago! Ten-year-old’s grow up! They change!
Suddenly, images of the little boy rose to the top of my memory. I remembered the quiet child who had a spark of enthusiasm and a heart of gold. I remembered his cooperativeness with his fellow students. I remembered his willingness to help me without question. I remembered exactly where he sat. I remembered his smile.
Now, I stood before a grown man in his thirties – a young man dedicated to his family and to his profession – sporting the same friendly smile. Here he was, nearly the same age I had been when I was his teacher.
Brandon conducted a thorough pre-evaluation that included testing the strength of the grip of each hand. The pressure exerted by my right hand was half that of my left hand.
I explained that I had never realized how much I had taken for granted the use of my dominant hand. Pain now jolted through my arm with even the simplest of tasks: Shaking hands. Scratching my back. Blowing my nose. Punching in my PIN number at the grocery store. Opening a door. Turning a steering wheel. Shifting gears. Tossing bird seed out to the greedy little pigeons in the morning. Holding a cup of coffee.
And typing… Definitely a drawback for this writer.
Over the course of five weeks, Brandon designed a creative regimen of exercises to strengthen the muscles in my hand and arm. He would demonstrate what I needed to do and then patiently guide me through each exercise, making sure that I was doing it correctly. Often, he would direct me to not push myself too hard. He’d tell me to do twenty repetitions of some movement, and I would lose track in my counting and end up doing forty or more. Stubborn, yes…and definitely not ready to be considered old!
I realized that we had switched roles. I was now HIS student.
Only twenty reps, Mr. Ramsey. Don’t overexert yourself.
Throughout our sessions, we caught up on each other’s lives. We shared stories of our wives and our children. We reminisced about fifth grade in the nineties. We talked about the accomplishments of other students and teachers we had known.
One thing I know well, after almost forty years as a teacher, is that once a student has been in your class, that student is connected to you for the rest of your life. The last day of your time together in the classroom drives home the realization that you are releasing that child to his next station in life. Hopefully, you have prepared him for what comes next.
Sadly, you realize that, even though you are eternally connected, you may never cross paths with one another again. Or perhaps, as I have so joyously experienced, your lives WILL intersect…sometimes when you least expect them to.
You hope they’ll remember you. You pray you’ll remember them.
If you are lucky, you get a few moments to reconnect – to talk, to laugh…to remember. You see that they have grown up, that they’ve done well for themselves, that they are giving back to their fellow man.
You realize that you had a small part in that.
And that is the best therapy a teacher can ever ask for.
(Thanks, Brandon. You know…you don’t have to call me “Mr. Ramsey” anymore!)