School ended last week. Now I’m what tends to be termed a “veteran” classroom teacher. That is, I’ve been in the classroom since the mid 1970s. Many years. Decades in fact. Happily, unlike many of my generation, I’m not the slightest bit burnt out. I still love teaching. I love classroom teaching. I love spending a year with a group of children, helping them grow and learn, inspiring them and having them inspire me.
This is no doubt partly because I teach at a private school not under the yoke of government mandates. A place where I can be creative and not be oppressed by tests, standards, and other outside demands. Ironically, I had every intention of teaching in public schools at the start of my career, having attended them myself, but there were no jobs available. (Instead there was that iconic New York Post headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead“) And so I grabbed a position at a failing private school, moved to a better one for a few years, and eventually landed at where I’ve been for almost thirty years now. I have to wonder where I’d be if I’d been in public schools — perhaps not in the classroom any more, maybe doing something else, maybe thinking retirement. Kudos to those who do continue the good fight after decades in public schools — from what I know I’m not sure I could do it.
This school year was a challenging one for me for non-school reasons and so I wondered if I’d been as successful with my class as I’d liked. Happily, the comments and notes that I received last week reassured me that I had nothing to worry about.
But the best thing that happened was at graduation. We are a K-12 private school and so faculty from all levels are encouraged to attend. Some years families and graduates are touched to see me and other years they seem to have forgotten me. I mean, 4th grade is a long way from 12th after all. This year it was the former. So many families and kids reminiscing about their time with me. One in particular. This was a young person who had been a major presence that year and thereafter for others as well. Eccentric and intense, I’d adored him. And as he made his way through the school I would see him occasionally and hear about him through others. Last week he was in the front row in graduation facing me and I wondered what he was thinking. Afterwards I wandered about trying to find my old students and their families. I’d given up on finding this student and was about to leave when suddenly there he was, right in front of me. “I have been looking everywhere for you!” he declared. And with that we hugged and talked about his time in my classroom so many years ago. We talked about things he’d love then, still loved, and was going ahead to learn more about in college. It was wonderful. Clearly I’d had something to do with his learning; I was remembered as a significant teacher; I had done well with him. This, I thought, is why I teach.