Related Content from And There Came A Day:
Me in my first classroom – Bishop McNamara High School, Fall 1992
During this Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I intend to share a memories of my years in teaching – some I’ve posted in years past and some new ones – if only to recall the moments that stand out and the moments that have somehow inspired me to press on.
“We All Saw Him Fall”
I’ve had hard days as a teacher – experienced train wreck classes that didn’t go well, inexplicable and sometimes all too explicable conflict with colleagues, and self inflicted and ridiculous deadlines when I’ve failed to complete grading when I should. None of my days, however, match the one I write of today.
The best part is, the terror of the day was completely self inflicted.
Early in my career, I fancied myself something of a hard ass. I wanted students to like me, yes, but I wanted them to fear me more. I wanted to be a tyro in the classroom – rash and unpredictable but able to win over my charges with my quick wit and towering intellect. I wanted to be John Houseman from The Paper Chase, Jamie Escalante from Stand and Deliver or Joe Clark from Lean on Me. Simply put, I wanted to be more than I was.
In order to be that – to rise to that mode, I would, well, throw erasers at boys who talked in my class.
I know what you’re thinking, “Wow. That is Hard. That is Scary. That is Bad Ass.”
Thanks. I know.
Early in my career, black board and chalk gave way to white board and dry erase markers which was good for me because the erasers for white boards are made of cardboard casings and are light and fluffy. No harm done when one of these babies drills a young man in the side of his talking head.
During an afternoon class, a kid who I really liked was chattering away as if distracting me and his classmates was his job. I shot him looks, told him to be quiet and, generally, took him on, daring him to keep talking.
When I could stand it no more, I reached behind me (I was facing the class with my back to the white board) and, feeling the fuzzy eraser, gripped it, picked it up and let it fly.
It might have been just when it was leaving my hand that I realized I had thrown, not one of the light, fluffy variety, but an eraser with a hard, plastic shell into which you could latch markers. The notches for the markers came to very definite points.
And those points were sharp.
The kid who was talking saw the eraser coming. The little s#!t was an athlete and he ducked it, easily.
Just behind him, another student who had said about five words in the entire course of the semester looked up just in time to have his forehead split by the eraser.
There was a brief moment of him sitting – stunned – hands covering his forehead waiting for the pain to subside.
Before the blood started running like a river down his face.
My entire career flashed before me as I got him out of his desk and down the hall to the bathroom.
I left him there to clean up and walked back to my classroom, wondering if I’d just lost my job. I opened the door in a cold sweat.
Sitting in the front seat, grinning, was Little S#!t.
“We all saw him fall.” He said. “We all saw him fall.”
It’s been fun reliving these stories and remembering these particular moments. It occurs to me that I’ve been in education for over half my life. That’s a very long time and I am proud to have made this work my vocation.
When I first shared these memories three years ago, I wrote this on the final day of Teacher Appreciation Week: “It’s the last day of exams at my school. I am still in the building as I write this. One of my duties around here is managing our Book Store and today was our Used Book Drop when students (and FAR TOO MANY parents, for my taste) drop off the books they’ve used this year to be shipped back to our supplier for a refund. Next fall, the process will reverse as the families will order their books and the company will ship them out to homes all over the Denver metro.
Book Store Manager. Student Council Moderator. Co-Service Director. Junior Class Moderator. Summer School Principal. Assistant to the Principal Chapel Choir Moderator. English Department Chair. Math Department Chair. Accreditation Chair. Creative Writing Club Moderator. Dean of Students. Assistant Principal. Acting Principal. There might be more. Over 22 years, I’ve played a number of roles in the schools I’ve worked. I liked some of those roles very much. I detested others.
Of all the roles, though, the best has been teacher. I’ve never wanted to leave the classroom. When I got my first administrative position, I was relieved when my new principal told me that, not only could I still teach, she would be teaching, too. This has been great for her as a principal and great for me as well.
My first planning book from my first year of teaching. I don’t know why I keep these things…
I got into teaching to hear myself talk.
No, that’s not right.
I got into teaching to be with young people. To work with them. To learn from them and, on rare occasions when the stars align, to teach them something about a greater good. Something about themselves. Something about God.
It’s never been about the Petrarchan Sonnet or diagramming sentences or, dare I say it, A Prayer for Owen Meany for me. I’ve learned from the good teachers around me, those who taught me, those with whom I teach and those I get to observe. The good ones – the great ones – can be teaching 1+ 1 = 2 and wow their charges.
I think I am a good teacher. I still want to be a great one.
What’s great about the last day is that, in two short months, there will be another first day. It will be my 22nd first day as a teacher.
The circle remains unbroken.
I hope nothing ever breaks it.
And, really, even the change in my responsibilities within education from teacher/administrator to current position with the Jesuit Schools Network hasn’t broken that circle. Supporting the work of Jesuit schools in my current role feels as vocational as my work within the schools did. Over 25 years in education. Unbroken.
Feels pretty, pretty good.