I was talking to an ex-student not long ago, who first wondered, she said, if she could ask me a question--now that she wasn't a student of mine anymore, that is. I couldn't imagine imminent danger. "Sure," I told her.
"At your age--after all those years of teaching," she said, "--I bet you don't even have to prepare anymore, do you?"
Wouldn't that be wonderful.
I told her I'd spent my month-long Christmas break either shovelling snow or getting ready for the next semester, a tougher job this year because of a visiting writer gig in Tennessee.
She was shocked. Honestly. She assumed any teacher who's been at it forever was on permanent auto-pilot, her bald ex-prof a portly wind-up doll--like the my granddaughter's portrait up behind a podium.
Wish I could find the crank.
Today it starts all over once again. My 38th year of teaching, I believe, but then there are good reasons I don't teach math. Multiply by two, and I get 76 semesters. Somewhere in all that half-lifetime, I'm sure I had a semester off, so let's just say that today is my diamond anniversary or something, make it sound special. Who knows?
Just yesterday the student evaluations from last semester came back. When I was younger, opening that envelope was sweet--they were always pretty good.
And still are--sort of. But some of the snap and sap and zing I once may have had in the classroom has gone the way of all flesh, literally. To students, I'm now a curiosity maybe, a yarn-spinning grandpa with a bellyful of laughs. I think it's harder to take an old man seriously. Maybe I'm wrong.
But yesterday's evaluations weren't bad at all. Not that I care all that much anymore--new tricks don't come easily to old dogs. I want to do well, but reading student evaluations for the 74th time is hardly a life-changing experience anymore.
However, one comment stays with me, like good stout oatmeal. One comment on those evals will get me through the day, maybe the week, maybe even the month. The question on the standard sheet goes something like this: "What can the instructor do to improve the class?" And some brilliant kid--I have no idea who--simply wrote this: "Don't quit."
That's advice I swear I won't heed; but those two words are, right now, this day, worth a million.
And for those words--the only words I remember from a whole batch of last semester's student evaluations and vastly more numbers than it takes to make this English teacher's head spin--for those two words alone, I am really, really thankful, this morning especially.
They are more than enough reason for heartfelt thanks.