The Whiteboard Jungle: Learning about the successes of former students always makes teaching worthwhile

As I enter my 30th year of teaching, I reflect frequently about the thousands of students who I have been privileged to work with over the years at Hoover High School.

More often than not, a teacher rarely hears back from students once they have grown up and established themselves in careers.

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It is always a pleasant surprise, however, when I do.

“Mr. Crosby!” came from a grown man among the crowd of teachers filing into the auditorium for a meeting at the start of the school year.

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I tend to recall faces not names, so when I realized it was a former student, I admitted to him that I recognized him but couldn’t place the name.

Arin Gregorian (Class of 1996) was in my English class over 20 years ago, and for the past 14 years he has taught math in Glendale. What a delight that he went into the teaching profession.

Then, about two weeks ago, I received an email from Sev Ohanian (Class of 2005) who worked on the school newspaper for three years, serving as editor-in-chief his senior year. In my 26 years working on the school newspaper, Sev was one of only four male editors in chief.

His tireless determination to do a quality job was evident even back then.

Under his leadership, the paper earned first-place awards for photo and graphics from the National Scholastic Press Assn.

We first reconnected back in 2013 when I found out that he was a producer on the critically acclaimed film “Fruitvale Station.”

He told me that his latest film, “Searching,” which he produced and co-wrote with director Aneesh Chaganty, was about to open in theaters across the country, a movie I was already interested in seeing. Knowing that Sev was one of the creative minds behind it made me even more excited about it.

The film stars another Hoover graduate, John Cho (Class of 1990), as a father searching online for his missing daughter. It is a compelling story told from beginning to end on computer screens, immersing the viewer in the contemporary social-media world; quite an intense and emotional experience.

“Searching” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, earning the 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the NEXT Audience Award, with Sev being honored with the Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Narrative Producer Award.

Within hours after the showing, Sev had an exhilarating all-nighter entertaining offers from several companies vying to purchase the distribution rights. Sony Pictures made the deal for $5 million.

In only two weeks, the film is near the top of box office receipts, and has earned the prestigious Certified Fresh rating of 91% on the Rotten Tomatoes website, 93% from top film critics.

I invited Sev to speak at a schoolwide assembly at his alma mater. With his parents in attendance, it was a powerful moment to hear him motivate the students with his success story.

Sev already is in the middle of several other projects so it was kind of him to visit his old school (and teacher). He kept his word in the final piece he wrote for the school paper: “I will always come back to visit.”

I am sure there are other former students leading rewarding lives that I don’t know about. That is part of the job, though.

A teacher works and works and works and is often not sure how much of the lessons, the lectures and the laughs stay with the students.

I am fortunate to know what happened to a few of them, and that motivates me to continue working hard with each year’s new crop of kids. I can’t wait to find out what they will end up doing in the future.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of “Smart Kids, Bad Schools” and “The $100,000 Teacher.” He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.

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