Zensights provides a space for gentle contemplation in a world filled with hectic action and stressed-out situations.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

End of an Era

I have been teaching for over 35 years, and at the end of this month I will close the doors to my classroom for the last time. I am turning in my grade book and chalk, and I am setting out to do all the things that I have wanted to do for a very long time. I want to go to the beach more often and play with my granddaughter whenever I feel like it. I want to sleep past 5 AM, and I want to be free to stay up late and finish that novel I have been reading. I am really excited to have time to write.

But I am also sad. I will miss students like Makeya who hangs on my every word, or Suada who came from Albania at a young age and has a better command of English than many of her American counterparts. I will miss Alex who asks the wise questions and Jeffrey who makes jokes that are really insightfully funny.

Since I have never been able to enjoy that fruits of my labor--students blossoming and becoming all that they can be long after they have been in my care--I can only sense that my life has been a force. By my count I have had more than 6000 human beings crossing the threshold of my classrooms during my career, and I would put money on it that I have had some positive impact. I know it when a 40 year old man tells me in the grocery store that I was the highlight of his senior year. I know it when a co-ed comes home and says that if it hadn't been for my class, she would not have made it through freshman English.

Still I worry about the sad state in which education often seems to find itself--filled with political agendas, bureaucratic paper trails, and, most sadly, violence. How can education ever regain the elevated status it used to have in this country?

First, I would suggest that teachers remember their mission--gentle, persistent guidance of their students. Don't let anyone dissuade you from that mission--not administrators or dysfunctional parents. Then, parents, you must realize that you are far more influential than any teacher in school; that your children learn from parental example far more quickly than the example of any school board employee. Set a good example for your children! Finally, I would remind students that ultimately, you are in charge of your education; that no one really makes it happen unless you let it. You can blame all your problems on the schools, but actually, it is your own responsibility to "get it." Work harder than you want, and I guarantee you will reap great rewards for that effort.

I have hope for the future, but until education becomes the most important focus of teachers, parents and students, I am not sure we will ever get anything more than what we have ever gotten before.