Daily Prompt: School’s Out Forever

I taught freshman composition at two upstate New York colleges in the early 1990s. My last class met for its final session at the conclusion of the fall 1995 semester, almost 19 years ago. From the start of that school term, I knew that it was going to be my last semester teaching or attempting to teach or calling myself a teacher; of course, two of the three classes that had my name on the syllabus that semester were two of the best groups of students I had ever worked with and almost made me regret my decision to retire at age 27. Almost.

The decision never was mine to make; I was not a good teacher, and I am grateful that I learned this on the sooner side of sooner or later. I am, maybe, an entertaining lecturer and an even better student; as a twenty-something freshman composition instructor, I must have been execrable. It’s too bad that I had barely made the faintest start in my pose as a long-suffering anything by the time it was all over.

But to this day, I have dreams in which I am on an unfamiliar college campus, can not find my classroom, and I have to collect papers to grade or I have grades to deliver to ever un-found students. I had one of those dreams last night, not knowing that the WordPress Daily Prompt for August 27 would ask me, “As a kid, were you happy or anxious about going back to school? Now that you’re older, how has your attitude toward the end of the summer evolved?” Even now, I have these dreams at the start of a school year. Last night I found myself on an unfamiliar campus, in a building much like my high school, a very crowded building in which everyone knew where they were going and I did not. Each classroom I entered was full, in session, and no one was pleased to see me.

(I will not bore you with any further attempt to describe my dream(s); it is a landscape I will not be able to depict well enough for you to envision. As you can tell, if I am dreaming anxiety dreams about school, 19 years after leaving school, my dreams are not interesting.)

It is August 27, so school will be back in session soon, and even though I no longer have a connection with the teaching-learning-educating profession and have no kids to purchase notebooks for, my experience as a teacher obviously left something in my psyche.

I loved school. Rather, I loved to say that I loved school. Summer is not my favorite season of the four to pick from. Growing up, I liked air conditioning, the smell of old books, and being left alone. I liked starting books but not finishing them. Thus, I do not know why no guidance counselor ever said the phrase “Library Sciences” to me; perhaps they did not want to be blamed for anything. (Librarians and copy editors are in two of the most honorable professions, for their silent service to the word and to learning. Moms, teachers, firefighters and police and EMTs all deserve daily thank-yous, but the silent service to education and general smarts provided by librarians and editors is worth extolling.)

August was always the lost month. Anything not accomplished by the start of the school year, which for me meant everything not started at the conclusion of summer—like learn to swim or drive or whistle or learn a trade—well, the time was now! It was the month I learned regret; regret that I had not embraced July while it was mine. It was the month that projects got dropped, only to be found again the following spring. (I am certain that my last letter to a pen pal in Hungary when I was 10 was postmarked in August. Same with another pen pal I half-remember in Scotland.)

September came too quickly, unbeckoned, and yet welcome all the same. The end of August was a frantic anxious, and I was perpetually insolent in pushing my assumption that my parents were not buying me a sufficient quantity of notebooks (“TrapperKeepers”) or the right sized index cards. (Even though I would always come to regret my insistence on 4X6 cards.)

When I started teaching, someone coached me in a visualization practice that I wish I had used in high school: upon learning the location of the class(es) I was going to teach, I would go sit in them (read: trespass) and look at my student roster. The first day of school can be as nerve-racking in its newness for teachers as for students, and in this way, my first day never felt like my first day.

I have many friends who are teachers and my admiration for them grows every year as I read their blog posts about the teaching life. I do not think I missed my calling, but I do remain someone for whom the year still starts in September and ends in June, leaving July to be embraced and August hemmed in by impending September.


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  3. Leigh W. Smith · August 29, 2014

    So many fascinating points of interest in this post. First, selfishly, I’m glad that we have your writing here, in this place, to enjoy and enlighten us, which might not have been the case if you stayed in a teaching career. I can also empathize with the plight of “to teach or not to teach”; I got an advanced degree in English, and the natural inclination, or outside push, anyway, is that “Oh, you’ll be a teacher or professor.” Nope, not for me. I had the idea but neither the talent nor any strong inclination. There were few careers for literature majors, even back then. To wit, it was pretty much: teaching, journalism/marketing, an unrelated field, or unemployment. Possibly something library-related or writing-related, if you were lucky. Today, from what I understand (with the emphasis on STEM), in some ways it is even worse for lit majors. I always had the vision of wanting to be like Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating in “Dead Poets Society,” fighting the good fight and inspiring children or adults to be in love with literature, like I was. But I just wasn’t that charismatic person (in fact, I was rather the opposite: reserved and anxious), and today I’m comfortable with admitting that. Sorry to be so long-winded, but again, a fantastic post, Mark, and I’m happy to get to know you through your blog-writing (and I also thank you for your plaudits for copyeditors, a field with which I was involved for many years).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Little ‘Big’ Man | The Gad About Town

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