Why . . . .

The end of the school year is always bittersweet. There's this bewildering mix of joy, relief, sorrow and boredom. Joy because the kids you've worked so hard with have crossed the stage and gone on to high school. Relief because teaching 8th graders in May is like being a lion tamer with steaks hanging from your neck. Sorrow because you realize that no matter how many times they made you want to strangle them, you're going to miss those kids and you know nothing or next to nothing about the new group coming up to you. Boredom because after graduation there's nothing to do, but clean your room and to tell you the truth, sitting in a stripped down classroom waiting for the time to run out on the year is really boring.

There are points in every school year when I want to bang my head against the concrete wall and ask why I'm doing this to myself? Test scores hang like a headsman's ax over my neck and my very evaluation will be eventually, at least partially based, on the capricious whims of my little test takers. My focus narrows, at times in the year, to those single digits. Numbers mock me, laugh at me, dog my dreams and keep me awake at night. There are times in the year when I'm not looking at ways to help  my kids learn and have fun, but I am concentrating on how to make those merciless little digits leap higher.

I am a good teacher. It's hard to say sometimes, particularly if poor scores dog your steps. But I am a good teacher. I love what I do when I don't hate it. I think that's a particularly poignant remark. Yes, there are times I don't want to walk back in the classroom to face all those hungry hordes. Sometimes the class is like a great sucking leech that drains you of of all vitality, leaving you lying dishrag limp on the ground after the swarm has moved on. Other times, I love it. I live on the energy that pumps off of them. Their questions, their humor, their triumphs keep me going. I've been swept off my feet into hugs by grown men at the mall who remember. It's stopped freaking out my friends after seventeen years. I've held my children's children. I've stood beside their caskets. They reach into me and, even when they make me want to scream in frustration, they make me want to be a better person.

Do I regret it? It's a poor person who lives with no regrets. If you have no regrets you haven't lived. Overall, no. I don't regret the job choice all those years ago. There's nothing I can think of doing other than teaching and writing. That doesn't mean it's always a joy-fest. There are days, even now, that I cry on my way home thinking I'm the worst teacher, the worst person on earth. There are kids I wish I could swoop away from their situations, there are times I'm happy I've mastered my "on the inside" comments too. I've learned discretion in a hard school, let me tell you. I regret how the profession has fallen in recent years. I regret that my fellow professionals aren't treated as such. I regret that I haven't been a stronger voice against that. I regret the days and nights I've spent worrying about numbers instead of worrying how to inspire.

Another school year winds to a close. The next year is weeks, even months away, but it's never too early to get started. Yes, we work over the summer. I'll be reworking my units for the next year, refining my curriculum and tweaking and creating my projects. It's an exhausting, rewarding, and defining job. It's what I've always wanted to do and what I probably will keel over doing. Now, however, it's time to rest and recharge. Wishing all students and teachers everywhere a safe and relaxing summer.  


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