While I looked for other opportunities to do my bit for the labor movement back in 2005 when I left teaching, if I scratch the surface of my memory, there are so many recollections I have of schools and school kids from my former life.
Now that I’ve moved to other jobs, one of which takes me regularly into school buildings as a cleaning inspector for Mid-American Cleaning Contractors, it’s amazing to me how similar schools look yet how very different they feel.
Some of the schools I inspect are colleges, and some are high schools yet the kids look in so many ways the way my last group looked some eight years ago. Perhaps the collegiate ones have a bit more seriousness and sense of urgency than the high school ones that I see who, in many cases, are just trying to find their way into a niche in which they feel accepted. But, beyond that, the kids I see look the same.
As for the high school teachers I see, their look certainly differs in a couple ways in particular to what I remember back in my teaching days. They are impossibly young, but, of course, that’s how much of the world looks through 61-year-old eyes. I also have noted that their dress is far more casual than my standard look of collared shirt, tie, dress slacks and dress shoes when I addressed my charges. Nowadays, I tend to see more golf shirts, cargo pants and Sketchers.
I suppose the fact that of the three high schools in which I toiled, two aren’t even standing should tell me something to the effect that times have changed and I’ve been gone far too long to be too judgmental about matters of attire. Those who are truly gifted and can teach, I suppose, can teach in just about any mode of dress.
Now, one of my accounts is in my old college town of Oxford, in southern Ohio, the home of Miami University since the school was chartered in 1809. My monthly visits always comes with waves of nostalgia from my 1969-1973 time there as I drive through town and past the campus and note what still remains that tethers me to my college days. There is, of course, Slant Walk and the Beta Bells and Roudebush Hall and other familiar red-brick structures that haven’t moved since I left that wonderful campus that Robert Frost once called the most beautiful he’d ever seen.
The high school I inspect is on the edge of Oxford, the town’s only public high school, a place consisting of grades 9 through 12 seeking to educate a little over a 1,100 students who traverse its halls.
Of course, the doors are always locked in this brand-new building, one which opened for business for the first time last August. I’ve been issued a swipe card to activate the lock that engages with a loud click, something, of course, I never needed once upon a time to enter Perry, Allen East or St Marys Memorial High Schools.
As I move through the building doing my inspection, what I see is a veritable educational palace, especially compared to my Memorial, a building no longer on West South Street in St. Marys, a building which already had a few years under its belt before the Market crashed in 1929.
Yet while the buildings of my past and this state-of-the-art building are certainly different, much that touches my senses are the same. There’s the feel of the painted cinderblock walls in the stairwells, the smell of books in what is now no longer a library but a media center, and the squeak of athletic shoes and the resounding thud of a Wilson basketball on the beautiful gym floor during a PE class as I make my way behind one of the baselines to get a look at the locker rooms. These sensations I know.
But, as I walk through the building, I sense something else, something, once upon a time, that would have been so very unfamiliar to me. It’s a slight tinge of apprehension as I look at the faces of those young people I see and wonder which one may be a ticking time bomb set to detonate. Which one, for whatever reason, may have become desensitized? Which one may be emotionally unbalanced and untreated? Which one may have been or is being bullied?
Since the day I last laid my chalk on the ledge at the end of May 2005, there have been 30 instances of shootings on school campuses. And, that doesn’t even include the gun violence that has taken place in office buildings, factories, churches, malls, movie theatres and other public places.
Yet, while I never think about someone opening fire when I am in those environments, the thought always passes through my head when I am in schools.
Not once in my 32 years of teaching did I even once while in my school think about someone shooting a gun, unless, of course, I happened to be teaching Crane’s "The Red Badge of Courage" or Remarque’s "All Quiet on the Western Front."
However, I guess, there is sadly a new reality. Once upon a time, schools were a place where I felt the most safe, but that has changed, sadly and, I suppose, irrevocably.