Why was this second grader drinking a beer, and why did I allow it?

When I entered teaching 17 years ago, I expected to the job to bring many benefits to my life:

Work that I loved. 
Stable employment.
Summer vacations.
A career that afforded me the opportunity to make a real difference in the world 

I taught second grade that first year. I had a class of 20 students. One of them was a little girl named Allison. She wore a purple Gap sweatshirt for most of the year. She was kind, shy, slightly under-confident, and liked to laugh. 

That's her, just to my left, smiling.

When I was moved to third grade the next year, Allison was assigned to my class again. She brought that same purple sweatshirt with her, along with a little less shyness and a little more confidence. 

On Sunday, that seven year-old was somehow standing beside me at her college graduation party, drinking a beer and talking to me about her upcoming trip to Europe. She's a 23 year-old woman now, and she's also in my house about once a week, babysitting my children, taking care of my pets, or stopping by to say hello. When we arrived at the party on Sunday, my children saw Allison standing in her backyard, screamed her name, and ran into her arms. 

That little second grader is now my friend and a member of our family. 

I had no idea that this would be one of the many benefits of teaching when I started my career.

And Allison is not the only former student in my life who has become my friend. My former students are constantly occupying spaces in my life. They attend my author talks. We chat via email and social media. They seek my advice. They visit with me after school, wandering through a classroom that looks microscopic to them today. They are my babysitters. They read the rough drafts of my novels. Two of them attended my wife's surprise birthday party earlier this year. 

Five years ago, as Allison's class was preparing to graduate high school, I took the stage to introduce my class's annual Shakespearean production and was greeted by six of my students from that first class, all sitting together, waiting to watch us perform Julius Caesar, a play they had performed ten years earlier as second graders.

It was one of those moments as a teacher that I will never forget. 

Job security is a wonderful thing. My summers are a treasure. The opportunity to do a job I love and that brings real difference to the world is more than anyone could ask for from a career.

But the friendships that I have developed with former students like Allison are an unexpected blessing that mean as much to me as any other benefit from teaching.