I imagine that Dick Ireland, were he alive today, would be surprised to learn that a former student fondly and frequently recalls his old geometry and physics teacher nearly thirty years later. Once our mortarboards arced through an overcast spring sky and clattered onto the asphalt parking lot, I never returned. Nor did I bother to contact any of the instructors who were an integral part of my life all those years ago. Somehow the thought of keeping in touch with my alma mater and its faculty seemed like moving backward instead of forward. Yet in a minor irony that I never foresaw as a teenager, I eventually became a teacher myself.
Like most educators, I wonder about the lasting impact of my instruction and guidance. I hope that when I sign off on my last report card, I will have made a net positive difference in the lives of my students. But I'll never really know. Students move on, just as I did. It took me years to truly appreciate what the best of my teachers had given me, just as I had to reach a certain level of maturity to understand how and why the worst of my teachers had shortchanged me. Good or bad, my lasting impressions of them have little to do with the content they labored to teach me.
I grew up believing that the first President of the United States was George Worshington. Oh, I knew it wasn't spelled that way, but that was how I said it. Similarly, I knew my home was equipped with a worsher and dryer, which we used to launder all of our clothes and linen, including the worshcloths. I inherited this peculiar dialectical preference and used it for years without the slightest notion that it was a deviation from standard English. Then one day, in the midst of questioning every other facet of my adolescent existence, I realized that there was no justifiable reason to pronounce wash as worsh, and I was appalled. I had been betrayed by my upbringing, tarred with a rube's tongue, and I vowed to eradicate the vulgarism from my speech at once. It took a few weeks of consciously correcting my bad habit, a learning curve akin to knowing how to use a foreign phrase with the aplomb of a native, but I eventually became forever worsh-free.
The transformation led me to tackle other linguistic abominations as they became apparent to me. I began to enunciate all four syllables of interesting in an effort to combat the gross contraction intresting. I put the first r back into library. I even started adding a g at the end of progressive verbs. Yet I was not a budding usage curmudgeon. I found no pleasure in the superiority of the language police. I simply noticed things that made no sense to me and adjusted my speech accordingly.
The rain in Maine falls mainly on the...um...rocks, I guess.
The school year is now well underway in central Ohio. Students have settled into familiar routines, teachers are dutifully plowing through the curriculum, and the specter of statewide standardized achievement testing is but a faint glow on the distant horizon. It's the season when the world of a teacher begins to contract like a closing camera aperture. Our collective focus is narrowed on academic objectives and the welfare of our students, leaving comparatively little time for our own extracurricular pursuits. That is why I am especially grateful that I enjoyed a totally fulfilling and restorative summer break.
If you are of the currently fashionable conservative ilk who resent educators as bloated, public-sector leeches sucking the monetary lifeblood out of taxpayer coffers, then read no further, unless you want to risk being provoked into a jealous and indignant rage. For while you were slaving away, trying to prime the sluggish circulation of our torpid economy, I was enjoying the better part of June, July and August in a leisurely existence free from the annoyance of a weekday clock alarm. Seething yet? You might just want to give this lucrative education thing a try.
"You aren't planning on doing this every day, are you?" asked my wife. Well...no, not really. Deep down, I knew that a $3-a-day, six-days-a-week habit was, like current state and national spending schemes, unsustainable. Yet so long as I had money in my wallet, I was finding it hard to resist the siren call of the newspaper rack and coffee machine of our local grocer. After all, what was three dollars on any particular day? Not much. Still, there was no denying that my little indulgence was putting an $18 dent in our weekly budget. No matter how much I enjoyed it, it was absolutely unnecessary.
It all started rather innocently earlier this month. We were heading out to stock up on groceries, but I was feeling uncharacteristically sluggish, as though I might be in danger of swooning over the produce bins and falling into a deep sleep. Caffeine, that wonder drug that I had managed to purge from my daily consumption for months, seemed to be in order. I wondered if there was a way that I might procure a coffee that I could enjoy whilst perusing the aisles. As it happened, there was just such a service in place.
If I look wooden and stupid, there's a good reason. Besides being wooden and stupid.
It neither bothers me nor excites me to be photographed. You won't see me rushing to insert myself in a hastily posed group picture, nor will you hear me begging to be excused from becoming the subject of an unexpected snapshot. Like most people, I appreciate a portrait that makes me look good and wince at those that do the opposite. But whether my likeness is captured thousands more times or never again, it's pretty much all the same to me.
However, there is one photographic ritual that I have always disliked, and that is the annual taking of school photographs. I don't recall enjoying the experience much when I was a student, and I have no enthusiasm for it as a teacher. Now in my tenth year as an educator, I have learned to simply grin and bear it. And that is exactly what I appear to be doing in most of my teacher portraits: grinning and bearing it.
No more pencils, no more books...
I've always heard that a school of piranha can skeletonize a cow in mere minutes, a trivial tidbit that came to mind as I watched the students in my classroom remove everything attached to the walls in preparation for summer break. Dozens of educational elements, from large wall posters to tiny "word wall" words, were ravenously detached in a frenzy of activity. What had taken me hours to put up was taken down in minutes, and my students stepped back and surveyed the bare bones of our room with sighs of satisfaction.
For the kids, there is an almost painfully sweet quality to the approaching end of a school year. Each emptied desk and vacant bulletin board is a sure sign that freedom is tantalizingly near, yet the final dismissal seems ever-receding, like a desert mirage. This frustrating combination of heightened anticipation and delayed gratification is largely responsible for the June madness that tries the souls of students and teachers alike. You can't blame the children: when you're only nine or ten years old, a summer off is one long vacation.