In much the same way local contributors Don Stratton and Larry Huffman have been asked to provide some insight in columns in the real-life law-and-order arenas, once upon a time, a decade plus a few years ago, I was asked by my first editor, Diane Pacetti, to fill a niche as a freelancer weighing in from the classroom. I was encouraged as often as I could to write about my view working as a high-school English teacher amidst a sea of roiling teenage hormones.
So, every year when the dog days of late August education arrive, I think about my teaching days, ones that ended in 2005, the year I erased my final blackboard, posted my final grades and walked out of Memorial High School for the very last time.
Certainly, there are those who would say it’s a life and a lifestyle to this day I haven’t fully left behind. I know my CPA pal Joe McCormick thinks I write about my days as a teacher too often, but as I’ve told him, “Joe, I’ll start taking advice on writing from you when you start taking math advice from me.”
During the August run up to the first day of school, I remember my days were filled with gathering my teaching materials, tweaking some lesson plans and making periodic visits to my classroom to familiarize myself once again to the feel of the school environment, from the occasionally stifling temperatures of a building without central air conditioning to the smells of freshly painted cement hallway floors and the faint must of textbooks.
Mid-August for me was also a time for worry. Unlike some with whom I taught, I really didn’t worry whether the children would like me although no one I know intentionally tries to be disliked. After all, I felt it far more important I gain their respect through how I did my job than whether they saw me as an older friend.
Rather, my apprehensions had more to do with whether I had enough time in just 180 days to get everything in I felt a college-bound junior in high school needed. I also worried that there would be those who would prove to be difficult to teach, either because of weak language backgrounds or because their chronic absences would cause so much aggravation.
I’ll admit, there was also a fair amount of sadness saying goodbye to those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, the ones of which the great Nat King Cole used to croon, and saying hello to school days that would begin in darkness and often not end until darkness came full circle.
Of course, the worse night when it came to my getting some quality sleep was the night before the opening bell when it would only come in fits and spurts. Would most of my students be compliant with my directives? Would they be present every day or almost every day? Would they have one head or two? All questions would be answered in short order, I supposed, as they always did.
As fitful as my sleep was the night before the first day, especially the three times I walked into a school’s classroom for the first time — first, at Perry, then at Allen East and finally at St. Marys Memorial — my sleep was never better the night after the first day. That’s because that first day I saw largely bright and shining faces, one per student, with nary a one being a two-headed monster, and, although naïve, I think I believed as I laid my head on a pillow that this would be the year every student would do everything I wanted done and every student would be there every day and nothing would ever distress or depress me.
Of course not a one of my 32 years evolved in such rosy fashion, but I always slept on the night after the first day as if this would be my reality.
As I look back on those days, the job of being a classroom teacher remains, besides raising my beautiful daughters, the single most important thing I’ll ever do. Given the number of school-related REM-inducing dreams that I still have so very often, I know how important the classroom will always be to me.
So, to those heading back in the next few days for another year of sitting behind the big desk charged with a pretty weighty responsibility, sleep well, probably not the night before, but surely the night of that first day. For you teachers heading back for another year, I envy you because you really do have a job that can so positively impact so many lives. And, despite those distant feelings of late August apprehension and the challenges I faced, I miss that so very much. I really do.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.