Funny, unexpected situations can occur at any moment when a teacher is out in public. One of the most random things that happened to me was running into a student’s parent at a club, and the father had no I idea I was his daughter’s English teacher. Long story short, I graciously declined his offer for a night cap. Then there as another time I was at a grocery store at 2:00 AM, and I ran into a group of students who barely recognized me because I wasn’t in my “teacher clothes.” Instead of my usual cardigan and knee length skirt, I was wearing my club outfit which included a strapless top and platform shoes. I slurred my words and mascara was smeared underneath my eyes. Again, it was 2:00 AM; obviously I was just getting back from a bar/ club and needed a snack on my way home. Both events happened early in my teacher career- back when I was 25 years-old, single and living by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Life was different then. Because of these experiences, I vowed that I would never live in the same city I worked in. I didn’t want to “run” into students on my personal time; I needed to separate my private life from my professional life, and for the past 15+ I’ve managed to do just that. I haven’t run into a student in over a decade.
Today, at Sports Basement, as I was sliding my debit card in the registrar and the cashier saw my name flash across the screen, I heard the familiar phrase: “Ms. Navarro? Do you remember me?” We were both wearing a mask, and I had on my sunglasses, and it took me a moment to take in his face, but when I read his name badge- Aldrin, it didn’t take me long to remember him. Aldrin happened to be one of the few Filipinos I taught in Pittsburg, and I even though I didn’t have vivid memories of him as a student, I did remember him fondly in overt details like that he was over-all athletic and liked to offer his help. It made sense that he now works at Sports Basement. Even though his mouth was covered with a mask, I sensed that he was smiling when I said “Yes, I remember you!”
There as an awkward pause because it had been about 13 years since I last saw him, so I needed to do a temperature check before I dove right in to ask him questions about his life. I broke the ice with: “How cool is it to work here! Adventure all around you” as I pointed to the hiking boots and skis on display. He chuckled and agreed. He massaged his curved chin and relaxed his shoulders. He shared that he was living about 15 minutes away and his roommate was another student in my class. They were best friends and finishing up school. Because of sports basement he went on a lot of adventurous meetups and trips but because of COVID many things were put on pause. He hoped things will get better when it was safer and the company would be ready and prepared, not rush into things for the sake of adventure and when he broke eye contact and folded his arms against his chest, I genuinely felt his concern. He asked about my life and I was surprised how much in depth I went: I said I just moved here from South San Francisco and was no longer teaching but coaching teachers. I shared that I was going camping this weekend at Kirby Cove and that I was bringing an air mattress because I’m first world problem and didn’t want to sleep in a sleeping bag. He chuckled again, and then I introduced him to my sister and my niece who handed him a hand warmer as some sort of peace offering. He politely took it and pretended to ring it up. I appreciated his jovial spirit.
When I reflect about this serendipitous moment, I recall how different I was 13 years ago. Back then I would have avoided the confrontation and probably would have hid in fear of small talk and making connections. Now, I welcome them and was even disappointed that I hadn’t bought more things to prolong our conversation at the cash register. Thirteen years ago I was timid of revealing my personal life with my students in very real ways, now here I was conversing with a student, taking my time and not feeling ashamed about the way I was dressed or how I carried myself. Sure, some of this is greatly due to maturity but more than that, I’m in a different part of my life where seeing former students thriving in life and willingly offering pieces of their life with me I know are gifts that many people don’t have the luxury to experience. Do I regret avoiding this the last decade of my life? No. I’m older; I’m wiser and I like Aldrin I know when not to force something that isn’t ready.