For every teacher who wonders "Why am I doing this again?", a story:

Lane Christianson, 44, was playing volleyball at his childhood elementary school in Maplewood nine years ago when nostalgia wooed him down the hall.

A familiar name hung on a classroom door. Mrs. Bell. He wondered, the Mrs. Bell? She of the blackboard star chart, tongue-twisters and silly riddles? The best third-grade teacher ever?

He grabbed a red crayon and the same manila paper he used at age 8, and wrote: "I don't know if you remember me, but I remember you ..." A few weeks later, Joyce Bell, 60, sent Christianson a Christmas card.

The teacher and her grown-up student have enjoyed many coffee dates, dinners and visits to each other's homes since.

"Doc Bell was born to teach," Christianson said of Bell, who taught for 28 years before earning her Ph.D. in education in 1999.

She is now assistant principal of Field Community School in Minneapolis.

"She made us think, without preaching. She was not afraid to laugh."

(Christianson's favorite childhood joke: What did the snail on the turtle's back say? WHEEEEEEE!)

"I was so surprised," Bell said of receiving the note from Christianson, a water resource education specialist for the city of Minneapolis. And relieved.

"You always hear about what didn't go right. I'd tell myself, 'I'm just teaching them for nine months and then I'll pass the baton.' But you wonder, will they be OK?"