It’s funny how some things stick in your memory and others don’t.
Are good things always easy to remember? Over 10 years ago I was a teacher in a high school in the UK, and recently I was contacted by an old student — let’s call him Steve — a hardworking, fun-loving student who had had missed a lot of time in his 10th grade due to illness.
I still remember sitting down with Steve at the lunch table one day after he had returned to school and talking to him as we ate. We had an interesting chat about how he was recovering and how he had coped with different aspects of his illness. Then one of the issues he asked me about was why I thought he had suffered from this illness at his age. I couldn’t give him a full answer, but I remember saying to him that maybe, now that he has come through this, it will allow him to help others in the future who go through similar problems. Maybe his experiences will allow him to help others when he is older.
We have been able to keep in touch over the years through the magic of Facebook. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing the people who were kids when I taught them, still friends with the same groups of people 10 or 15 years later and posting pictures celebrating their life events, family celebrations, marriages, child births, etc. Some of the strongest bonds we make are with the friends we make at school.
A few nights ago, quite out of the blue, he messaged me and ended up calling me to talk about a question he had that he wanted to discuss. We ended up talking for almost two hours, I think; I didn’t even notice the time, just that it was very late when we finished.
It is great to see that you can create a respectful relationship with teenagers that they are happy and willing to speak to you so many years later.
It was lovely to catch up and hear how this child had turned into a man and a father and what he is now doing in his life, how far he has come since the days when he had to miss so much school.
Almost unsurprisingly Steve didn’t remember that little chat we had that day at lunch time. But he appreciated that I had remembered it, and it was important to Steve once I retold him our general conversation and to hear again what I had said at that lunch table. I think this was more inspiring for him listening to the story now than when we actually had the conversation for real all those years ago.
Was it important that I can remember that chat but he doesn’t? I don’t think so. It was clearly part of a relationship that developed over many years at the school in the classroom and outside of it.
In a good school with teachers who are great role models, we are able to help move our students forward so that they will relate to their teachers in a positive light. As teachers we know that there will be tough times with the children we are teaching. They go through different stages in their lives but if we treat them with respect even when having to discipline them, we will still gain their respect.
I think there are also several important lessons business people can take away from a good, positive teacher student relationship.
1) We should never underestimate how important our advice can be
When we give advice to others from a place of caring and desire to help someone else it can stay with them for years, even after we have forgotten it ourselves. I have had times when people have reminded me of ideas I have shared with them that I cannot remember saying anymore. And then having them tell me how that helped them at a certain time in their life.
2) We are in this for the long term
If we treat our co-workers or clients with as much respect as possible, even in tough times, they are likely to remember this years later when we might need their help. Just as a teacher must sometimes discipline a student for their behaviour in class or towards another student, if that is done in a respectful manner the student will maintain their respect for the teacher when they calm down again afterwards. So too with clients, as long as they understand that you have had their interests at heart they will be happy to help you in the future.
3) One day we may even switch roles
Steve called me out of the blue; he was looking to me for some advice, but I have realized since then that I also need something from him. He is now a successful businessman and there will be times that I may also want to ask him for advice, for his insights in doing business with people of his age, or the areas of business that he has mastered and that I don’t understand.
Looking for people to help, advise or support you in life doesn’t always have to come from looking to your teachers and elders, sometimes we must also look to our students or the younger generation as well.
Our past memories and connections in life should give us hope that the future can and will be even brighter, and it is entirely possible that one day soon my student may become my teacher. And that is something I will look forward to.
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