April 2018

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NL #44: Waxing Nostalgic

NL #44: This is the time of year when people in my profession wax nostalgic: we say goodbye to students we've come to love and remember students from past years who have been such grace to us. I blieve ths students below are students who have visited my blog. I taught each of them when they were in high school. They're all out of college now.

Monday, my colleague Joanna helped me take my artwork down from our cozy cubicle since I'll be roosting in other places next year. When she took down a bright yellow and blue plaster of paris sun, she noticed the note from Tressa on the back and the graduation year, 1995, the same year that Joanna graduated. Wow. Joanna said to me, "I guess you aren't in touch with her anymore," and I was pleased to say that Tressa and I are in touch, sorry to say that Tressa too is struggling with illness, but glad to have her in my life, then as now. If I remember correctly, I taught Tressa for second semester freshman English, sophomore English, beginning journalism, advanced journalism, A.P. Literature and then, school newspaper editor. And she was my T.A. I learned at least as much from her as she did from me. Mostly, I think we had fun learning together. She always told me if I had stuff in my teeth after lunch.

Sara was in a lot of those classes, too. She's a calming, thoughtful presence. For a while I heard she worked for Vogue and rode a motorcycle.  I've seen her recently and she's calm and centered. Now she's a nurse, which seems just right to me. I hope she's not on the motorcycle anymore--especially since I'm so aware of the troubles of head injury--but I don't know.

Brett was in that same sophomore English class, A.P. English, and journalism. He was (and is, I'm sure) dang smart. I remember the day we were discussing Poe's "Annabel Lee" in AP Lit and Brett understood the bizarreness of the narrator's attachment before his friend Kenny did, "Hah!" He loved music and Jimi Hendrix and did his senior project studying music. His presentation room was packed with friends who admired his passion. He's been in Austria with his wife (if you've known a lot of adolescent boys, you know that imagining that boy with a wife is a joy in itself). Anyway, he and his wife have been in Austria now for six years, but I'll look forward to seeing him when he returns to the U.S. this summer.

Herb is the most recent of this bunch. In high school, everything he did was funny. He could pick up a pencil in a funny way. I tried not to laugh, but he would just do something else, like pick up a book, to make me--nd his peers laugh. He was also, and still is, a profound artist and thinker. He, like I, loves the chapter "The Present" from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

This morning, my previous student Chancey, in town from Minnesota, visited. As a junior, Chancey worked a full year revising her Scarlett Letter essay. Stunning persistence. My other sharpest memory of her as a studetnt is the day she arrived at school late, laughing that she spun her car in the snow and that the car was still in the ditch. She's not easily rattled, it seems. She's now a high school English teacher in a charter school and from the way she talks about her students--with humor and affection--I suspect she's fabulous.

From time to time I run into Eldin on Capitol Hill. A sophomore in my English class, he was as angry and cynical a student as I've ever met. I tried to arrange social services for him, but it was clear he was in for a rough ride. About ten years ago, I saw him on Broadway, begging for money for his twenty-first birthday toke. Three years later, I saw him again. This time he recognized me but still seemed a little rough. I've seen him on Broadway twice since: enrolled in college, clean, and saying he was happy. He reminds me that the students who don't get it together in high school have a life ahead of them and that still there is hope.

I have lost touch with some that I wonder about, and I wonder how they are faring as they grow into adults.

I figure I've taught about 2000 teenagers, and each of them is such a wonder. I could not tell you every name, but I could probably tell you something about each as a student: an engaging discussion, a well-written essay, improvement over time, humor, kindness.... Every adult I have known (with two significant exceptions) who has changed careers to go into teaching has balked at the work load and the difficulty and returned to the world of higher pay, but for those of us who love it, there's no more joyful place to be.


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