There are days when I ask myself this question; today is one of those days. I remember seventh grade just like it was yesterday, even though it was thirty-six years ago. Maybe it is because I teach seventh grade and I am surrounded by seventh graders most of the day; this year William is in seventh grade and I get to ‘live’ seventh grade all the time. It may also be because being a teacher, a really good teacher, is reaching out to kids who are struggling but having a difficult time like the one I was watching when I started writing this a while back.
I was never a great student, especially in the seventh grade; and that is understating it. My parents had decided to divorce in the fall of my seventh grade year and my dad had moved away from Texas to Saudi Arabia, leaving all of us behind. I had played football, my first season of organized football, that fall and had worked hard to maintain Cs in all of my classes – it was the minimum allowable for eligibility and I struggled to keep up at that level. After the season, when my parents told us the news and it was downhill from there.
Even though, I had some incredibly caring teachers and two stand out from that time: Mrs. Atlee, my RWS teacher (Read, Writing, and Spelling), and Mr. Gilbert, my social studies teacher; they were the kinds of teachers who listened to understand who I was and what interested me. It was in Mrs. Atlee’s class I recall hearing the Beatles for the first time and when she played “Eleanor Rigby” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man” to illustrate the elements of poetry for metaphor and symbolism. I am not sure I would have remembered lesson’s objective had I not turned out to be a language arts teacher, but whenever I hear those two songs I can imagine myself sitting in her classroom as a seventh grader. Mr. Gilbert, on the other hand, had a great sense of humor and seemed larger than life to seventh grader. He taught Texas history and geography and tried to get us all to understand our roots, even for a non-native Texan as I was. His class was the last of the day and he always let us out the door with his rendition of “Happy Trails.” He could not sing well, but it didn’t deter him, he would belt it out as we scrambled out the door when the bell rang racing to the bus and home.
On days like today, or the day I started this, I think of those two teachers who worked hard to instill the love of knowledge and learning. We are in the final days of reading The Giver and my students are finding out what Lois Lowry has had in store for them. Yesterday’s in-class reading and conversation centered on the meaning of ‘release’ (in the context of the story) and many students struggled with the ideas. Looking back, I suppose many seventh graders never think beyond themselves and what life is really about. Books like The Giver, hint at what life has in store for them but I don’t think any of us is truly prepared for life beyond school. I know wasn’t, though I have learned.
I became a teacher because I wanted students to be excited about learning. Once I realized that learning was about learning how to do things and not remember random ideas and facts, it became easier and made more sense, more practical. I know many of my students question whether they will ever use the information I teach again. Several weeks ago, a student questioned me in class when we were writing a reading response. Honestly. She will continue to read, write, and think though she may not use the framework as we were using it in class. I work hard to help my students and my own kids make sense of the world we live in, though it is a challenge. So when a student ‘gets it’ or really embraces the ideas, it is incredibly rewarding. That is what makes the job of teaching so much fun and at the same time, so exhausting. The difference between my time as a seventh grader in 1974-75 and today’s seventh graders seems like a huge expanse, but they are just unaware and naïve as I was, though they work hard to mask it.
Today marks thirty days until school lets out for summer. It seems like a long time, but it isn’t. The time will vaporize before my eyes and summer vacation will, too and I’ll be back at next year – it is an endless cycle. Today, the weather masks spring – it is cold outside, just 35° and prospects for the day are in the forties. However, the grass is greening, the daffodils are above ground and flowering, the birds are singing up a racket in the backyard, even now, as I write this. Today is possibly going to be the best day ever and the forecast for the tomorrow is a million and six times better. So I had better make every minute count, I’ll jump up, jump in, and seize the day. Making the Days Count, once day at a time.