Three decades of teaching high school kids have come to an end.
The fact is that I approached retirement with bittersweet feelings. I won’t miss 4:30 am wake-ups, filling out forms, committee meetings, or report cards. Those are the reasons I am happy to move on.
What I will miss is the day-to-day challenge of working with teenagers. For the teacher, each school day is a marathon. You charge from bell to bell, toiling through the schedule, taking attendance, collecting papers, handing out assignments, trying to keep order, all the while buffeted by questions and problems which demand snap judgments, instant decisions, and wise edicts. In the meantime, you try to teach a thing or two.
It’s a challenge, all right, but it’s also fun. You spend a lot of your time laughing or scratching your head in wonderment at what might happen next. I admit that I have had my share of angst in teaching, but the truth is that I spent most of my career somewhat bemused at the joy and spontaneity of the youth all around me. I always tried to see the funny side. Even the miscreants could bring a smile to my face when their deeds were essentially harmless but devilishly clever.
I got a kick out of “kidding” the kids while attempting to use armchair psychology to nudge them towards academic or behavioral goals. I used oddball ideas and questions to get them primed for what I really wanted them to learn. My goal was to get them to set their own goals and works towards them. As an English teacher, my slogan was, “You are the author of your own life story.”
As I reflect upon a long teaching career, my memory is flooded with faces, thousands of faces looking up at me from classroom desks. I can look into their eyes. I see them squinting in deep thought. I see them suddenly bright and wide open in receipt of a sudden inspiration. I see them moving quickly back and forth, scanning the lines of a good story. I also see them droopy, nearly closed (reminding me to liven up the lesson a little.)
The years have gone swiftly by. So many faces. I recall a child in my very first class. It was freshman English. He was rather small for his age and very business-like in his approach to school. While others wore jeans, he wore a slightly tattered shirt and tie to class each day. He carried a well-worn briefcase for his books and supplies. His face was shiny, as if someone had scrubbed it clean each morning before he was sent off to school. He worked very, very hard to earn B’s and C’s. He often stayed after class to clarify an assignment. On one occasion he told me that he lived with his mother and grandmother. He said that he was the only child on either side of his family to go beyond the eighth grade in school. He was determined, he said, to go to college. My heart went out to that little guy, who left home each day with the hopes and dreams of his whole family riding on his narrow shoulders.
That boy would be nearly 50 years old today. What happened to him, I wonder? Did he fulfill his dream of going to college? Was he a hero to his family? I hope so.
So many young faces. So many bright eyes and minds. What happened to all
of them? Did they get a good start? Did I point them in the right direction? How are their life stories coming along? Are they living happily ever after?
I hope so.
to the Classroom