It’s the calm after the storm. Exams are taken. Yearbooks are signed. Ceremonies and celebrations applauded. The countdown completed. The final day cheered. Hallways emptied of raucous students. Teachers have finished grading those final exams and stacks of papers, the office staff have mailed final report cards, and the toils and struggles of the school year – like memories of childbirth – have faded in intensity.
School’s out for summer.
In my classroom, the floor is cleanly swept but dull and dingy, lacking sheen, evidence of the sandy shoes that have shuffled across it these past ten months. The windows, the blinds, the shelves, the desks, the chairs, like the white board, are shiny clean; the room has passed its annual “white glove inspection.” The desks are stacked, the books and supplies are boxed, and the walls emptied of décor. Everything is ready for the summer renewal – the repairs, the fresh paint, the stripping and waxing of the tile floors. And like the classroom, we teachers anticipate a summer renewal – a chance to refresh our neglected homes and yards and diet and exercise plans. A chance to renew our minds, to fortify our resolve to do it all again – better – next year.
Because in between our goodbyes to students and that last box in which we seal the evidence from the past year, we pause and reflect and – perhaps – lament. I know I do. For no matter the accolades and appreciation demonstrated, the knowledge of some successes along the way, I feel remorse, that sense that I could have done more, I could have done better.
This year, especially, I feel I have failed my students. My school called me to different roles, exchanging my Algebra classes for administrative roles while continuing to use me as an English teacher and department head. I was spread thin (not physically, unfortunately… still have to refresh that neglected diet plan). But, to be honest, this feeling of remorse – a teacher’s lament – is not an isolated event. It has haunted me as long as I have taught. In the past, that lament has been constructive – pushing me to find solutions, to improve my craft, to better inspire and motivate my students come fall.
But this August, I am not coming back. My days in the classroom are completed. And so this year’s lament is not followed by hope and action.
Somehow through the years, I have managed to straddle my school supplies between my home and my classroom. Daily, I dragged a wheeled crate of supplies to and from school. But during teacher post planning, in an effort to leave a fully stocked and properly organized classroom, I united the items from home with what I had at school and created an itemized inventory before boxing them for the summer. As I entered each item one by one, I too often thought, “Wow. Now that would have been helpful when we were studying ____.”
What I had at my fingertips – or at least at home to bring within reach of my fingertips in the classroom – were valuable tools that might have helped me teach better and lament less. You can be sure I am passing those tools along to my hand-picked and personally trained successor. But I have to admit that finding those unused tools makes me wonder if I might be lamenting less had I, in fact, put those tools to good use.
Thankfully, they remind me of something that does offer me hope and spur action, something much deeper — my walk with God — and what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:3:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Through the knowledge of Christ, I have all the tools I need as a Christian to live a godly life. To my replacement English teacher, I am passing along a full inventory of the tools that just might be everything she needs to be an effective teacher who has no need to lament next summer. But to myself, I am passing along the reminder that I have everything I need to lead a godly life.
I leave the teaching — and the lamentations — behind. In Him is hope.