Just before class yesterday, a old colleague stopped by, even more a classroom veteran than I am, and said he'd just finished teaching Hamlet. He looked beat. He said he just didn't know whether it was worth it anymore, his students having so much trouble with the language.
If you were raised on the King James, it's said, you have a leg up when it comes to the bard. Don't know if that's true, but it sounds right. These days there's texting, of course; Shakespeare's no picnic when your longest sentences are a couple of dozen clicks.
Sometimes a teacher, an English teacher anyway, feels these days as if he or she is speaking another language altogether, Elizabethan or Mandorin. When Twitter is a way of life, even "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber" can seem like forever. My colleague was beat like Willy Loman. He'd suffered the heartbreaking notion that even though he'd given himself away for an entire class period, he hadn't rung up a sale.
Someday I'll walk out of the classroom for the last time and retire forever that salesman in me. I used to love it--"get in there and sell them the vivid felt-life of story or poem or play." I'd go into the gridiron classroom like an all-conference linebacker, pumped for the fray.
No more. When I see a class with their eyes half-opened or, as if in chorus, downcast, I want to run because I know very well what sadness was written on my colleague's face yesterday; I've come back from class a victim of the same battle fatigue. Hamlet's done. The prince is dead--long live the prince. Such an incredible thing, that play--and they really don't give a hang, those kids.
Teaching puts food on the table and money in the pocket, and thereby preps me for the day, four years from now, when I'll sweep the books off the shelf and walk away.
But I don't teach for the money, really; I do it for the eyes. I do it because sometimes I see kids who love to tango with ideas, who come to class because they really do believe that what happens therein will matter. If I didn't see hungry eyes behind those desks,, I'd checking want ads yet this afternoon. I've got no desire to be or even play Willy Loman.
Anyway, all of that was right before class, and then I went off to my own.
So this morning--after finishing up Walden yesterday, no mean task--I'm thankful for what I saw there in my students yesterday afternoon, and for what I didn't. Right there in the landscape of their eyes I witnessed something abundant: life.
It won't always be that way, and isn't. But yesterday, after the death of Hamlet, it was. And for that, this morning, believe me, I'm thankful.