My all time favorite movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life.” One of the best scenes is where George picks up his brother Harry from the train station. George has stayed home to keep an eye on the family Building and Loan while Harry was away at College. The plan was that when Harry finishes college he would return home take George’s place. George Bailey had always dreamed of a life more extraordinary. He never got the chance. George soon learns that Harry is not only married but has been offered a career opportunity to good to pass up. The scene I love is right after George realizes his dreams are once again not going to happen. He walks along side a train alone and in just a few seconds you can see him experience every single emotion a person can feel all at once. This is exactly how I felt as soon as I got home last Thursday to start summer break.
If you are a teacher I know that you probably understand how this feels. Not every educator has the same reaction to summer break. Some of us run out and party, while others start on that summer to do list before its time to start prepping for the school year. I on the other hand, like to reflect. By the time my butt hit my couch to watch season five of House of Cards, I wasn’t it any kind of mood. I stopped watching five minutes into the first episode and had this overwhelming tide of emotions just hit me. I felt exhausted, relieved, energized, enraged, depressed, ecstatic, dreadful, and hopeful all at the same time. I have never had this happen before and it reminded me of George Bailey’s train moment.
I love teaching American History, but towards the end I was phoning it in. Funny thing about American History, it doesn’t change much. The Americans win their independence, the Confederacy always loses, and the Indians get wiped out… not a lot of new material there. The redundancy of material, new colleagues, state testing, communication breakdown, leadership issues, loss of colleagues, and fidget spinners had nothing to do with the way I felt last Thursday. It was simple and yet so complex. Here are my train moments from the end this year:
Train Moment Number 1: Perception is Everything
It would have been a nice fond farewell, had I had the chance to thank and tell my favorite class how proud I was to be their teacher this year. It would have been beautiful had not one of those little ungrateful turds, decide to say, “Liar….you lie… that’s a lie….after every compliment I gave them. Usually when kids act this way I don’t react. This one stung, not because of what he said, but because it appeared he wasn’t the only one that felt this way. Several others, some were my favorite students, nodded in agreement, snickering, and thinking it was funny. I know that I cannot win all of my students over. But I have a perception problem and that troubles me. Now you may think that I am making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe I am, but in my field PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING! You know you have an image problem when the only photo of you in the yearbook is your staff picture, and the end of the year good bye video features every other person on that campus but you. Oh wait…no….I saw the back of my head.
Train Moment Number 2: Slightly Above Average Makes Me Smile
I get notes from students around Christmas time and teacher appreciation week. They all say some wonderful things. Mostly they thank me for teaching them. They emote beautiful things like “You are like a second father to me,” “Thank you for making me see things differently and being there for me!” My favorite one this year was from a student I didn’t hear much from. They never took the opportunity to chat me up in the hallway and trying to get a conversation out of this kid was like pulling teeth! I get a note from this young lady just before Christmas that reads,”Thank you for being a slightly above average teacher.” You have to love it! Most kids try to artificially inflate your ego with compliments. Nope, not this kid. This kid keeps it real! It is quite possibly the best compliment I have ever been given. It was honest, it was forthright and straightforward, and it keeps me grounded. Slightly above average…..I can dig it.
Train Moment Number 3: Loneliness Is The Central And Inevitable Fact Of Human Existence.
Thomas Wolfe once said, “The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the fact that loneliness, far from being a rare and peculiar phenomenon, curious to myself and a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.” I have only read a few pages of his work but I often wonder if he thought it up after sitting in an empty classroom at the end of the school year. When the kids are finally released for summer and all the teachers retreat into their little cliques, some of us are held captive by the unnerving loneliness of silence. The room is void of any energy and curiosity that once sat there gleaming up to you. Our vain pursuit to matter in this world, was once fulfilled with the eager eyes and ears of youth, but now it is hollowed out in a lonely abyss of obscurity. Nothing but empty desks and the spectres of students staring back into our weary eyes mocking us as we ponder whether we made a difference. Thomas Wolf also said that the best cure for vanity is… loneliness.
That is how I was feeling on Thursday….as always, thank you for reading! Share Tales From The Red Pen with someone you think would like it. Would love to hear from you! Please pass this blog along to others.