I was going to begin this post with the following phrase: “I am no longer a high school teacher” but that is not true.
I will always be a high school teacher. I am simply not teaching high school for the foreseeable future and, though I may never teach a high school class again, I will always and forever consider myself a high school teacher. I guess that’s what teaching for over 20 years does to someone. That kind of tenure creates identity and my identity as a high school teacher feels solidly fixed.
What is true, though, about this year as I embark on my amazing new job as Vice President of the Jesuit Secondary Association, is that I am not currently teaching high school students. I am not heading back into the classroom this autumn.
This is a change.
For the last 22 falls, I’ve been up during the night before school, tossing-and-turning over the details of the day to come, running through the checklist of what has been done, what needs to be done and what can wait to be done. I have taught every year of my career, even the last 12 when I served as an administrator.
It’s okay to not be teaching. Really, it is. I will miss it, to be sure, but I am not in a deep depression about it.
But there is one thing I should admit. For over half of those teaching years, I’ve been lucky enough to introduce my students to the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany and, on reflection, I think I’ve been engaged in the book for six of the last seven years of my career. In many of those years, I read the book (or almost all the book) aloud to the students, asking them to follow along in a classroom set I kept in the back of the room.
I am sad about not teaching Owen this year. That’s true. I love the book. It is absolutely my favorite novel of all that I have read and I have read more than a few. I will miss teaching it, very, very much.
Of course, I can read it myself at any time. I can pick it up any day I wish and live for a while in the world John Irving created. And I know that I will. But reading a book is not sharing a book.
I will miss the sharing.
In the novel, the upper crust, upper-class grandmother of Johnny Wheelwright, one of the novel’s two protagonists is given opportunity to remark on what she thinks of educators: ” ‘So he’s a teacher?’ my grandmother asked. This was borderline acceptable to Harriet Wheelwright.”
I will always be a teacher and the vocation is far more than “borderline acceptable” to me.