It took me a moment to comprehend what my colleague was telling me: "Todd just went into the boy's bathroom."
On the first check, I couldn't make a problem out of it. Todd was a boy, and that is where I would expect boys to go, especially during lunch recess, which is what we were currently experiencing. Could it be that this First Grade teacher was trying to point out an upper grade kid using the bathroom during the younger kids' recess? I ran another check in my head: Todd. Hold on. There is no Todd in Kindergarten, First or Second Grade. That must be it. Except there isn't a Todd in Third, Fourth or Fifth Grade either. As I stood there, puzzled, my First Grade associate looked at me as if I should be doing something. Then he offered, "Do you want me to go down and see what he's doing here?"
Bingo. Todd doesn't belong here because he is no longer a student at our school. Todd was a familiar name because he was a student of mine when I taught Fourth Grade. That was a long time ago. That would make him eighteen years old. Not a Fourth Grader.
This slow realization suddenly burst upon me, and I lurched into action. "I'll go check it out," I assured my First Grade partner, and I strode off in the direction of the boy's bathroom. I heard water running as I walked into the dim light from the bright sunshine. There was a tall figure, hunched down over the grade school size sink. He looked up as I came in. "Hey, Todd."
Todd turned around to face me and when he stood straight up, wiping his hands with a wad of toilet paper, it was apparent just how much he had grown. He was now almost a full head taller than me, and a straggle of a beard hung from his chin. "Hey, Mister Caven."
His smile of recognition was a huge relief. He was not my favorite student, way back when, probably because I had no idea how to deal with his behavior. We did not "reach" when I was his teacher. What I did understand, a year later, was that I had a much better handle on his wandering focus than I did with his younger brother, Terry, who followed him into my room. Terry was a much bigger handful. Where Todd was goofy and hard to motivate, Terry was sneaky and required constant attention. Encountering a sixteen year old Terry in the bathroom during a regular school day would have created a much different reaction from me. Seeing Todd there, drying his hands was a relief. "They said I could come in and wash my hands." He was letting me know that he was checked in and working within our parameters.
"How about some paper towels instead of toilet paper?" I offered. To my mild embarrassment, we were out of paper towels in both dispensers in the boy's room. I changed the subject, "Have you been around to see your teachers?" I knew that lunchtime wasn't the best time for a visit, since most teachers are either rushing about gathering what they need for the next few hours to finish up the day, or taking that brief time to gather themselves for what was coming right after lunch: more school. I really wanted everyone to see Todd. The last time he had visited the campus, his hair had been painted gold, and he looked dazed from whatever life had been handing him. He was also wearing a state-issued ankle bracelet to track his movement after a recent brush with the law. Now, he looked much more alert, with a natural hair color and lacking any government hardware. He was in the neighborhood to visit his sister and his nephew. He had stopped by because he knew that he could. He wasn't being sneaky. He was being resourceful. He was visiting.
It was good to see him.