There is a wonderful episode of the Twilight Zone where an aging private school teacher faces his deepest fear: that of being forgotten, without everhaving made a difference in the lives of his students. He eventually convinces himself that it would be better to die by his own hand instead of living with his depression, and so he goes off into a snowy Christmas Eve night with a gun. He eventually wanders to a statue of Horace Mann. The inscription reads, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” But, before he is able to shoot himself, shades of his students visit him to share gratitude and appreciation for all of his work, care, and love of literature.
How many students have sat in each of these chairs? How many papers, homework assignments, essays, projects, ests and quizzes have I graded? When I am alone in the classroom, my classroom, whose voices do I hear? Whose smiles do I see? What angry glances are thrown my way with contempt? How many posters and pictures and projects have hung on the walls, or from the ceiling?
How many students have changed my life?
Around my classroom, right now, I see portrait posters of heroes and leaders, artists and scientists, writers and activists. I see student projects and conceptual art. I see dozens of places from around the world and read the poetry of Rumi. There are many complete sets of objects once called encyclopedias. I have a file cabinet filled with manilla folders, stuffed with lessons and printouts of really cool stuff I created well over ten years ago – long untouched. On the table in front of me is my Macbook Pro, my Dell M1330 laptop, my printer from home, my Dell XPS desktop, my Linksys router, folders, a stapler, a 3 hold punch, lots of unused power cords for laptops that could not be salvaged from obscurity. I have field trip forms for a trip to Boston tomorrow (Adams Historic Park and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University).
The homeroom bell rings… Another day begins.
My time at New Bedford High School has been eventful, to say the least. I have learned much about the nature of school politics as well as the ins and outs classroom management. In one of the first weeks of teaching there, a student lit another student’s jacket hood on fire. I have seen more triumphs (big and small) than suffering, but both are present in an average day. To a certain extent, guns, gangs, drugs, violence, sexual abuse, police as the enemy, poverty, homelessness and broken families have all sat in the seats before me as I try to teach the differences between Hamilton and Jefferson. On the other hand, dozens of students have entered the field of history, while hundreds have gone to college for the first time… all sitting in front of me from one class to the next. Many students have found love, purpose, identity, faith, and their potential in my time here at this school.
How does one measure a lifetime?
Is a teacher’s job a career? Is it a life? I keep thinking of how students who saw me in the summer were shocked and awed to see me in shorts. When I was a teenager, I found it hard to see a teacher beyond their job. My experience with them was limited to the give and take, the time from bell to bell. How could they be anything else?
So now, here I am. One lifetime ends. Another begins. I learned a lot about myself. I saw greatness in my colleagues, and more importantly, my students. I made mistake after mistake, sometimes too slowly learning how to improve lessons, pedagogy, and professionalism. In the end, within the pale blue walls with bright orange cabinets and closets that was my classroom, I changed… and nothing was lost.
Goodbye, New Bedford High School.
It was a good life.
Hello, Sandwich High School. A new life begins.