This is my second fall since retirement from the classroom, and though I am content with my decision to leave, I am feeling a little nostalgic.
From the portal of my computer I have watched teacher friends psych themselves up for their annual migration back to school. Pristine, empty classroom pics are gleefully posted online, arranged with care for the students to arrive. Posters are tacked up on the green cinder block walls, desks neatly arranged, and books organized on shelves. (By the way, the day before the kids came was the only time of the year that my room looked that orderly).
Believe me, the night before classes start feels electric. No “60 Minutes,” or “Sunday Night Football” can dampen the anticipation for the following morning–we are restless horses pushed into the gate. For the one and only time of the year, I actually would iron my clothes, set up the coffee on a timer, and review my plans for the morning. If I slept at all, it was only for a couple of crazy dream-filled hours. This was big stuff, life was starting over again, the possibilities seemed limitless.
I cannot speak for other departments, but mine was terrific. We all authentically liked and respected one another. And even better we laughed a lot. I think that is the part of starting up the new year that I miss the most. I weathered more seminars, speakers, and other “professional development” drudgery than I like to recall, but nothing ever restored my spirits quicker than a good laugh with my colleagues.
As I reminisce about school, I’m reminded that members of my department didn’t approach their teaching duties at all the same way, but still effectively reached their students.
One colleague tried so hard to seem stern and exacting, really wanted to be seen as a disciplined guy. He demanded punctuality, meted out consequences according to the student handbook, but it was no use. The kids saw through his pretense, and many went out of their way to express their amusement with his charade. Kids waited for him at his door to harass him with shoulder bumps, jokes, razzing. They loved him and knew he felt likewise.
Another teacher was a completely different character. Meticulous to a fault, his classroom and teacher desk always in perfect order, his lesson plans exact and centered on the desktop. In the front of the room lay needed supplies, seating charts, sharpened pencils . . .the whole deal. And though it sounds like he ran a regimented show, his kids too, adored him, thriving in a well-planned and secure environment. Though they didn’t bounce him around, he wasn’t the type, the kids hollered greetings down the hall, waving excitedly to get his attention.
Then there was the guy next door. His style was just as different as any two sets of fingerprints. My neighbor maintained a strong boundary between himself and his students. His magic came through with his classroom instruction. Walking past his door revealed students busily delving into the subject matter through the medium of cardboard, music, duct tape and research for presentations. This teacher presided over a carefully managed laboratory, empowering students with his experiential style. Those kids learned self management.
I know that those outside education have a hard time understanding why we do it. We make so little, are so pushed around–by politicians, administrative dictates, and from parents rescuing their kids from one thing or another. In the end I believe we teach because we are determined optimists. We believe deeply in the rightness of our calling. We know that we can quietly do more good for our country than any other occupation. We model knowledge, compassion, fairness, enthusiasm, humor, and hope for the future.
We teach ourselves. Happy New Year.