Here’s a thing I’d forgotten about my job before I came back to it. As much as I aspire to be (and usually am) in control of my classroom, hiding in its corners and quiet moments are delights and strange kernels of time which I could never plan, could never make, can only notice if I’m looking at them in just the right slant of light. They’re the oddities, the unclassifiable outliers, the secret gifts of teaching.
-The moment when we read Blake’s “I Saw a Chapel” and my group of boys actually listened to it. I asked them what they thought, and one of them said, “It’s weird.” I smiled because he meant it and also because he was right.
-Students who come and sit on my tall, soft stool to spin idly round on it between class times, sometimes to talk to me but more often to talk to each other. Sometimes I tell them to get off, but then bite my tongue and wish I hadn’t.
-How I passed out “Dream of the Rood” in translation from the Old English and had them read it in pairs with no outside guidance then watched, touched, as they drew bright pictures of the paradox of Christ’s cross, encrusted in both blood and jewels.
-The afternoon a junior came in and as he passed my desk ran his fingers absently over a turtle candle-holder I keep there, a gift from a student my first year. That turtle is even more beloved than it once was for having come such a long way.
-The map of Huck and Jim’s journey carefully traced onto butcher paper on my back wall, with a bright orange carrot drawn next to Cairo, IL, because the artist thought Cairo looked like “carrot” which it definitely doesn’t.
-The desire to laugh and cry and burst with pride at the absurdity of it all while listening to a roomful of fourteen-year-olds stumbling in unison through the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales: “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, the droghte of March hathe perced to the roote…”
-Two boys who spent their mid-morning break in my room with heads down on the desks, covered by sweatshirt hoods, sleeping slumped right up against each other’s shoulders.
The thing is, the end of the first quarter has come, and with it, the love has hit. I hadn’t forgotten that the love for my students would come, but I’d forgotten the force with which this seemingly mild affection would barrel into my chest. This love, this concern for adolescent welfare, this enjoyment of the utter weirdness of their particular youth expands me and makes me grateful for things well outside its scope. I am grateful this week for voice messages, for Little Free Libraries, for Peter, Paul, and Mary, for counters to sit on, for crockpots and for sidewalks. I am grateful for that which gets us from place: for conversations, for seasons, for weeks and weekends, for growth which comes step by unusual step.
Dear Alice, I am thankful for you–and that my stumbling efforts at teaching so many years ago didn’t discourage you from pursuing this sometimes overwhelmingly impossible, but sometimes gloriously fulfilling field.