A Coffee for your Troubles

Stories of former students and teachers beyond the classroom.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

You might see your teachers as major adversaries in a learning environment. They’re the ones giving you hour-long lectures, assigning piles of homework, and handing out tests. Especially through the virtual lense of Zoom, your teachers might seem hardly more than just digitized score-givers. However, outside of an educational setting, your teachers are likely far more approachable than you think.

Senior Sunny Bok found herself relating to a handful of former teachers, including chemistry teacher Gabriel Ting and precalculus teacher Joseph Stern. She notes that while teachers may appear unnerving, communicating with them outside of class really lowered that fear. “Every so often, an alum friend and I will pop by with emails to ask [Ting] ‘what’s up’,” Bok said. “It's very chill talking to past teachers, since there’s no specific academic relation, and it’s rewarding to see a side to teachers that most don’t show in the classroom setting.”

She and her friend would discuss life in lockdown with Ting while also providing updates on their academics. Although they aren’t students of his anymore, they still maintain amity and often reminisce about fond memories in chemistry class together. “I’ve been thinking extra hard on what to get for recommendation gifts [for him] and will probably end up making some super cool friendship bracelet,” she joked, referencing an inside joke from their chemistry class.

Keeping in touch with teachers isn’t only limited to friendly chats, but also guidance in academia. As someone who greatly values communication with teachers, senior Aditiya Rashid finds ways to interact, whether it’s checking up on her American Literature teacher Zakia Babb or sending physics clips to her physics teacher Ulugbek Akhmedov. “I’ve kept up with teachers who have helped me in the college process and often update them about how it’s going,” she stated, referring to those who not only wrote her letters of recommendation but also those who helped her with her writing in general.

When thinking of interactions outside academics, Rashid mentions teachers with whom she talks to about topics outside of school, namely her sophomore English teacher Lauren Stuzin. “We sometimes talk about what we’ve been up to, video games, make-up, clothes, and even music videos,” she said. She also expressed a desire to give them a gift as a token of her appreciation. “They mean so much to me and I want to give them something to remember me by, just like how they gave me something to remember them by,” Rashid added. Contrary to the impersonal nature of teachers giving tests and grading assignments, Rashid and Stuzin’s interactions show how teachers can relate to students beyond the classroom as well.

Similarly, fellow English teacher Minkyu Kim mentions a similar story when a former student wrote and illustrated a book. After entering it into a contest and winning, she used it to pay him homage. “The prize was that they published her book! She gifted me a copy with a [hand-written] inscription on the inside cover, and it’s something I still treasure,” Kim said in an email interview. Additionally, he felt it was worth noting the messages students sent him. “I love the emails and cards I get from students just saying thanks,” he said. Among the many interactions he has with students, the appreciation they show has a profound and meaningful effect on him.

Teachers have also interacted with former students by meeting outside of Stuyvesant. In an e-mail interview, mathematics teacher Ashvin Jaishankar remembers meets for coffee, lunch, and general returns to Stuyvesant. Meeting them shows him how they have been performing since graduating, citing an example of a former student he had known since her freshman year. “She was a TA for my NY Math Circle course one summer. When I met up with her in Cambridge for coffee, it was so nice to hear of her time at MIT and what she was planning to do once she graduated,” he wrote.

Besides these occasional visits from students, Jaishankar also mentions a memory of a student’s letter that has stood out to him for nearly a decade. “Math was not her strong suit, but she gave me everything she had day in and day out, and ended up with an 80 in the class,” Jaishankar reminisced, noting how the letter started with an apology. “[She] felt she had let me down for some reason, [yet] nothing could be further from the truth. My wife actually had it framed for me and I keep it as a reminder of why I became a teacher in the first place and also [how] I’ve been very lucky to be able to teach here for 15 years now,” he said.

Jaishankar’s optimism with his former students is a testament to what lies beyond schoolwork and lessons. While they may simply appear to be people who only exist to give you work, teachers can be extremely personable. Maybe several years later, you’ll find yourself reminiscing about a course you took in high school and see your former teachers in a different light. They might even one day be the person you’re getting coffee with.