Driving to work today — the first day of school — I saw the school maintenance man and his son, a high school senior, wheeling their way to the campus. Ken and Matthew didn’t see me, but I was acutely aware of their car, having seen it day in and day out for years, usually traveling the same roads to the same destination. At the traffic light, their little brown Honda turned left; I went straight, heading miles away from the sweet school that has played such a role in my life as a teacher.
School is starting without me. I am a teacher no more. Today’s encounter was a poignant reminder that I am not returning to the classroom, that school is going on without me, that “my” students now belong to another teacher, that I am no longer an integral part of daily life at the Academy. But like our cars on the road, the feeling quickly passed, noticed only by me.
Let me be honest. I am glad I am not returning to the classroom.
This summer, summer break was summer break, not an extensive planning period for the upcoming school year. When I cleaned my classroom and left it for the last time, I didn’t cart home books so I could plan afresh all summer. I didn’t go through the usual cycle of relief, regret, and resolve, the theme of previous summers. For years, my summer would begin with relief that the year was completed. I could clean house, weed, blog, regroup to my heart’s content. Then I would reflect on the school year just completed and begin the regret phase. Instead of focusing on the successes, I would peer intently at the hopes that didn’t become reality. I would experience regret that I hadn’t accomplished all I hoped — instilling in my students a love of reading and writing and seeking truth, and, more important, a passion to protect reading and writing and the pursuit of truth because of what it means in our Christian lives. And then I would resolve — to do things differently, to find that magical secret or system or sequence that would make those high hopes reality.
There is something idealistic about preparing lesson plans in the absence of students. On paper, on my computer, on my course website, I planned a great curriculum woven with creativity and skillful classroom management — the best of all possible classrooms. And then the students would arrive. As Robert Burns said in his poem “To a Mouse,” “The best laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry.”