Marching Toward This Day

Since the school year started, my AP Lang and Comp classes and I have been marching toward this day.  The teaching of the course is over. This morning they took the national exam. In mid-July we will learn whether they scored high enough to have also completed a college course in English. That matters little to me as their teacher. I’m proud of this moment. I am enjoying today.  

These students bravely signed up for the class, trusted me last fall when I assigned them seven types of essays on the same subject, and told them they’d be writing about 4,000 words on that one assignment.  They learned to write précis, annotated bibliographies, and a researched argument paper, surprising themselves with more words they’d authored than they ever thought possible.   They learned the new vocabulary of rhetoric, how to analyze another’s argument, how to synthesize sources and build an evidenced-based argument.

Even more than those skills, though, they built community. They reviewed each other’s writing,  listened to each other, learned to argue with civility, laughed with each other, and held each other accountable. Though this is an educator’s hope for every group, it doesn’t always happen. Personalities and group dynamics can be a funny thing.  As a teacher, you only have so much control over what walks through that door. 

This year it happened.  They were really friends.  Plenty of self-deprecating humor, along with  tough enough hides to take a little teasing from each other, this group seemed to appreciate, even celebrate,  the array of interest and talents among their members.  Laughter took us a long way as we studied, and trying to decipher the political rhetoric flying around this election cycle -  Lord knows we needed the laughs. 

I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when I walked through the door last Friday morning and the smell of sausage balls met my nostrils just as the chorus of “surprise” met my ears. My first period class had planned a party. Though I usually have only black coffee for breakfast, I ate everything they cooked, bought and brought —or asked their moms to. They did this, they said, because “You are leaving and we have to have a party for you.” I almost cried. 

It’s true.  I am leaving my teaching job. Several years ago, I agreed to substitute for a teacher taking a nine-week maternity leave. She never returned and I never left. At the time I took the temporary job, I was toying with the idea of returning to school, only the ‘toy’ in my mind was an advanced degree in creative non-fiction where I was the student.  What does the proverb say? “Man makes his plans; God laughs.” 

My last six and a half years have been creative non-fiction.  And I have been a student. This final year is the first one in which I haven’t had a new course to prepare, technology to learn, or additional job responsibilities. Though I don’t have that “toy” in hand, I leave with far more than I could have imagined.  I’ve honed my own reading and writing skills trying to keep up with students who are often far more intelligent than I am.  (Age and practice are my advantages!) I leave with valued relationships I’ve built with colleagues and parents, but most importantly,  with students. They have let me into their lives and I have let them in mine.  They have helped me stay grounded and count my blessing and keep my own problems in perspective. They have let me worry about them, nag them, scold them and love them. They have given me stories to make me smile into my old age - which is still a long way away - and to write about in the meantime.

I leave to pursue the dream I had before I ever returned to teaching - to write.  When the call came asking me to teach those few weeks of the maternity leave, a wise friend said to me, “Pay attention to what comes to you unbidden.”  I did.   Maybe the laughter of heaven was because He had so much more to give me than what I thought I needed.  The “unbidden” turned out to be much richer than another degree hanging on the wall