Tomorrow, school begins for the 38th time in my life. Once upon time, way back when, I wanted to be a photographer. But my father, a fine Christian man, told me that just shooting pictures wasn't really a "calling" in the Calvinist sense. But then, the only photographer he knew was a guy who did weddings; his idea of art was church music. Photography simply wasn't noble enough for his only son.
Last Friday night we had dinner with two professional photographers, good friends, and I told them how my father had ruled in 1966. Maybe telling them that should have been embarrassing, but, strangely enough, it wasn't; and I've been trying to figure out why.
Now teaching, my father said--that was a noble profession. There are teachers galore in my family, so when I went through what college students here did yesterday--registering for their first year of classes--I signed up for education. I was going to be a history teacher. I liked history. But the major didn't really matter because for most of my high school life I wore a jock strap--I wanted to coach. Back then, when you signed up for education you had to sign up for some other major in order to get the real gold. I was a history major--PE minor. I wanted a whistle hanging around my neck. I wanted to coach.
I don't know that my father cared much about that. He just wanted teaching.
Things changed, sort of. Not long into my very first year of high school coaching, I realized, oddly enough, that my heart wasn't in it. I was third-rate and I knew it. But in the classroom my students' eyes made me believe I was no slouch. I was teaching English--not history, although a lot of it was history. I got into literature because somewhere during that first year in college, I got royally seduced: writing swept into my life passionately and took me out at the knees.
Last week a couple of ex-students from a two-year high school teaching stint in Arizona long ago somehow found me on Facebook. That was sweet. And a kid from my very first year of teaching in rural Wisconsin--1970--still sends me glorious chunks of Green County gold--the best Swiss cheese money can buy. As some might say today, this teaching thing hasn't been a bad gig.
Yesterday in our office pod we met the new English majors . For me, they're the beginning of the end, because when they graduate they won't be the only ones waving goodbye. A school is a revolving door--kids come and go. Because English teachers are often privy to the inside stories of their students' lives, we sometimes we fall in love--male and female, makes no diff. After all, we get to know them so well--or so we think--that we actually come to rely on them for joy and inspiration. Then they graduate, and they're gone. And another bunch walks in, like yesterday.
But for me, this one is the last. Four more years.
Maybe I wasn't all that embarrassed to tell those photographers that my warm Christian father didn't think a lot of what the two of them did for a living because maybe--just maybe--within the limits of my father's definitions and his own son's life, he was right. Teaching hasn't been a bad gig. Maybe even a calling.
Besides, I still take pictures.