Tallying up the school year

May 15, 2001|By Matthew Buck

IT'S A GOOD time of year to be a schoolteacher.

The long trial of winter, and especially that tolerance-testing month of February, falls further into fading memory with each new blossom. The school year's home stretch is by no means as sinfully pleasing as the holy trinity of June, July and August. But there's a special feeling of accomplishment and renewal that comes with spring in school.

Until I became a teacher, I had no idea how important the weather is when it comes to school. A dull, rainy day can have enormous consequences for all.

Facing a room full of 14-year-olds in the middle of the afternoon after both outdoor recesses have been canceled and eating lunch while stuffed into a cramped cafeteria sometimes is enough to make me consider other careers.

May brings bright days. Sunshine and heat recall the school year's beginning in September and cause that same freshness of spirit to take hold once more, if for only a moment.

Still, classroom routines and daily drills are now so engrained that they have a momentum all their own. My students, whom I am pleased to observe performing once new and difficult tasks automatically, look at me with some weariness and complacency. They and I have survived many months of furrowed eyebrows and exhausted yawns. We've endured nail-biting elation mixed with pursed-lip rejection.

Before the dizzying frenzy of school's end, May provides me with enough energy for a glimpse of where our journey has brought us.

I see young teen-agers who are able to read with a little more comprehension, write a little more clearly and think some new thoughts. I marvel at human beings who are taller, more broad-shouldered, and deeper-voiced than when they first came to me eight months ago. I cannot escape being humbled by the possibility that I might have had as much to do with the later physical growth as the former intellectual.

It's not that I haven't tried. At least my students know that their teacher finds few things more exciting than the trial of Socrates, or Alexander the Great marching across Asia or Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

The truth in all of this is that as interested as my students are or pretend to be for my sake, they will remember woefully little of the things we've talked about. This is a disappointing discovery, especially for a teacher with the few years of experience and idealism that I have.

Summer is looming, when textbooks and pencil cases are substituted for baseball gloves and beach towels, reminding me that my contribution to my students' growth has almost nothing to do with facts and figures.

The pleasure of this moment comes from something more mundane. What matters right now, and what will matter years from now, is how my kids feel in my classroom.

I make the weather there, as a quote posted on the refrigerator door in our faculty lounge says. Have my students felt safe and secure in my care? Have I praised them enough to inspire confidence and admonished them enough to develop diligence? Those are questions that May answers, when old journeys end, new ones begin, and there's time to celebrate both.

Matthew Buck teaches social studies at the Gilman School and is a free-lance writer.

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