I hated yesterday. It was my least favorite day of the year as it always is. There is nothing inherently unlikable about May 22nd; in fact, it can be any number of days in the latter part of May. Yesterday was the last day of school. I spent about six hours on campus this morning with wrap up stuff and a faculty-staff luncheon and there is graduation tonight but it's over. My end of the year checklist is turned in, all the exams are graded and in the computer system, and I'm trying to figure out how to get the wrinkles out of my commencement gown which has been balled up in a file cabinet since last May. We had a bizarre incident, the first of my teaching career, on Thursday. During the final final exam, the fire alarm went off and I'm not going to lie; my first thought was, "Someone is about to get expelled." But, the alarm was caused by a maintenance department procedure and was no threat so after ten minutes of standing in the parking lot, we returned to our math examinations. When the announcement came that the test was completed and the year was as well, the kids streamed into the halls, turned in their laptops, hugged and said good-bye, and walked away. The employees as well as their kids were, in the manner of schools, left behind. I always have an empty feeling in my stomach on the last day. Some of the kids don't realize our paths will never cross again and to some, that is not a big deal. To some, it would be a big deal if they comprehended what it means- I certainly could not at their age. The same is true for some of my fellow teachers. I wrote the following on May 28, 2006 and it is as true today:
I walked through our school building yesterday afternoon. A deserted school is forlorn to me, almost mournful. I had the same feeling as a kid when my dad was the director of Nebraska Youth Camp and we always were the last to leave, which I detested. The best time to say good-bye is before anyone else. Some of our kids I will never see again. Some of our teachers I might never see again. The nature of education is that people move on. The relocating of two colleagues will affect me tremendously. April Cusic was kindergarten teacher supreme, possessing the patience I only dream of. For the past two years, she has also been my middle school girls' basketball assistant coach and human GPS system on road trips, as well as modeling Christ for my players. April is, after training, going to Brazil as part of a mission team. Kevin Duncan has been on the other side of my partitioned classroom for a four year span. Without a doubt, he is the most creative teacher I know, making even world geography exciting. In August, Kevin will move to Costa Rica where he will instruct in an international school, paving the way for his doctorate by learning Spanish. Good teachers can be replaced but as people, April and Kevin are irreplaceable. I felt a great loss when I peeked into their empty classrooms on Saturday.
You know, at the end, I always wonder what difference we made/I made. As humans, we get so stuck in the present and often I can't see any type of big picture. Last night, I went with our WCS Head of School, Greg Glenn, to a book signing in downtown Houston. Laurence Payne, the author, is the speaker for our commencement tonight being held at Houston Baptist University. The writer of The Heart Of Houston: Lessons In Servant Leadership, I found this educator/humanitarian warm and enthusiastic with an incredible sense of mission and detail, and his lovely wife equally as charming. (He remembered from a tour of WCS that my room has a mural of Jesus even though we had not met.) What caught my interest as well during this meet and greet was the skyline from the 49th floor of The Houston Club, the location of the event, just as the sun was disappearing in the west. When I say this, you must remember I'm from a small town in Nebraska where the tallest building had no more than three stories. I found myself transfixed by the panoramic view from that vantage point- things look so different from a skyscraper. It was a clear evening and you could see for miles. I was amazed at the amount of open space I saw from this dizzying height and how things on the earth's surface appeared to move at a snail's pace. The one discovery that impressed me most is the close proximity of Minute Maid Park, where the Houston Astros play, and the Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets. I've watched games in both venues but was unaware they are only several hundred yards apart, at least to the naked eye from the 49th floor! In one minute, I learned more about the landscape of the biggest city in Texas than I had gleaned in sixteen years of residence. I just had to get above the situation.
When I had the blessing of being up there, I could see how things are connected, where this street leads and where that road dead-ends. If only it was that easy at street level! I'm the worst person I know at finding an address, with the possible exception of Greg and our combined mental GPS is laughable. We drove around in circles for fifteen minutes, even passing by our destination at least one time and maybe more. We were trying to read street signs and building numbers and ended up wandering. We had a goal and knew approximately our location but it took considerable trial and error to complete the journey. And yet, we talked and laughed while navigating downtown Houston and since it was a come and go affair, no one knew we were late! In life, in education, we meander in spite of our best intentions to stay on the road that Jesus taught is narrow and found by few. Truthfully, I want to know that I mattered, really mattered to a youngster who sat in my class or a young lady who played on my basketball team or a child who listened to me wax eloquent in chapel. But it takes time. Teachers I despised and coaches I could not understand made deposits in my heart of which I remained ignorant for decades. Now I can see why Mr. Berry pushed me and demanded my work be better than the paper I turned in which he defined as garbage, if my recall is accurate. Now I know he did me a tremendous favor by being a stickler. But when I was living it, it was from a 16/17/18 year old perspective and I needed distance to comprehend any sort of road map for my life. I required distance from my childhood to look back and realize these experiences had meaning and were not random happenstance. The Lord knows. Acts 17:26 tells us that,
"He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live."
I find that comforting as I try to manage each move I make and sometimes fight God's plan for me because, you know, I know better. And if I know better, I'm sure my students do, too. I'm confident there's hope for them.... and me. I'm still painting my big picture.
*Photo is from www.dailymail.co.uk*
Applicable quote of the day:
"Few people seem to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone to a worldview that provides the perspective to all of life."
"Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org