When I admitted that I wouldn't grade their tests because I'd be at a hockey game, the kids asked me who I was going with. I don't usually share my intimate details with students, but I'm a bad liar, and so it slipped out that I was going with a guy before I could think of anything else to say.
"Ooooh," they gasped, shocked that a teacher had allowed that tidbit to escape. "What are you going to wear? Where did you meet? What's his name? What's his name?" It was a spontaneous gossip session and it was sweeter than I thought it would be. Sure, I blushed, and I regretted my inability to hide my life, but their earnest interest was touching.
"Why won't you tell us his name? Just tell us. We don't know him. What does he do? Have you been together long? Does he work here?"
I tried to maintain a little bit of privacy, and I attempted to cut off the questions by answering them as briefly as I could, but I'm still not sure they learned any math that day. One of them said, "Oh, we should stop asking, because what if it doesn't work out?" The innocence of the question caught me off guard, and I said, "Well, I'm thirty-five, and it hasn't worked out yet, so it probably won't," and I laughed, because a date to a hockey game means so much more to a 17-year-old than it does to a woman twice her age, but apparently it still brings out all of the same insecurities.
After class, a quiet, hard-working girl who is so much cooler than I ever was in high school, changed her exit path from the room so that she would walk by me and said, low, so no one else would hear, "You know, my mom was thirty-five when she got married for the first time." She smiled at me, encouragingly.
When I was a kid, there was a teacher in my middle school who was famous for crying. Making Mr. Peterson cry was a badge of honor for a certain population of student. And here I was, accidentally flapping my jaw and allowing an entire classroom full of students to see my soft underbelly, and instead of kicking it they tucked me in with care, protecting my fledgling relationship the way they would protect one of a friend.
The hockey date didn't survive, but he still played a role in making my fifth hour a more fun place to be.