The end of a school year is “tired time” for teachers and students alike. You are beat, and can’t wait for the much deserved summer break. I remember like it was yesterday, not decades ago, that visceral warmth of the last day of school, knowing the days ahead meant sun and swimming pools and unhinged time, despite the prophetical fears of our parents that after a week or two all of us kids would be bored stiff and at each other’s throats.
Does that desperate desire of your students to get the heck out of school in early summer, mean they don’t want to be with you anymore? Do they see you as their prison guard from whom they want to escape, fearing only the new guard who will grab hold of them 10 weeks from now?
Perhaps some, but one day a week or so ago, without a yearbook to re-kindle any memories or refresh any names, I told a group of faculty what I also remember about those end-of-school-year days, what also sticks in my mind about my teachers, beyond the seemingly endless weeks of autumn, winter, and spring, and the still-palpable burst of freedom that came with the last days of a school year in June.
I remember my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Salt who watched over us in nap time and tried to get Billy Burtness to stop eating white paste. I remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Carter, and my second grade teacher, Mrs. Pfeffer, who let me read books with the third grade kids in the room next door from time to time. I remember my third grade teacher, the stern Maxine Fink, a name of endless opportunity for young boys, who wore her tannish hair in a tight bun and told my mother that sometimes I lacked “self-control”, which was true. I remember my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Ellsworth, all five feet of her, not counting her 1964 bee-hive, in her first year of a three year teaching career; she hung the moon as far as I was concerned and I would have walked through fire for her. I remember Mr. Jamison in fifth grade and Mrs. Henry in sixth, who had endless patience for pre-teens and our mountains of uncomfortable angst.
I remember Miss Heilman, my Western Civ teacher in seventh grade, one of the five best teachers I ever had, a Deeper Learning teacher 50 years before the term was coined, who went on to teach another 40 years; I had lunch with her last year at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Palo Alto, and she asked by name about a dozen of my classmates from almost a half-century ago. I remember Mrs. McGlashan in eighth grade, the stout Irish matron whose rigid glare in the first two weeks of school was enough that no one messed around in her class for the rest of the year, except the one kid who took the liberty of propping Mao’s Little Red Book on his desk one day, earning him a trip to the principal. I remember Sr. Hill, Spanish teacher and soccer coach, who almost gleefully chided me for my poor performance in class, probably spent a bit more time hanging around the boy’s showers than was right…but gave me a pair of Adidas cleats when my sneakers proved a liability on the pitch.
I remember Larry Hull, my biology teacher in tenth, Burt Harrell in eleventh who kindled my love for geology, and Mr. Chanteloupe who I respected so much in American History that I took civics from him in summer school, economics in my senior year, and kept in touch with him for forty years after high school. “As a good Catholic”, I remember him telling us, back in the day when this kind of comment did not draw the ire of the school board, “I just know that I want to be able to go before God when I die knowing that I never voted for a Republican”. I remember Barney Tanner in AP English, the toughest SOB who ever stared out from behind a wooden podium, who could empty a red pen on a short essay seemingly just for fun, but who, in one short year, taught me how to write. I remember Mr. Page who at least tried to teach me humility; and our band leader Mr. Wolf who could blow some bad Blood, Sweat, and Tears on his trombone; and Coach Williams and Coach Harkness who taught us much more than how to swim faster.
I don’t know whether to pity or envy those whose brains are not clogged like mine with memories of the distant past. I could write a full blog about each of these teachers and my time with them, and twenty or thirty more. They collectively form a fabric of influence, of the me who I am.
You, reading this, are very likely one of these cherished memories-in-formation to some of the students who right about how just want to bolt from you, and you from them, to enjoy a summer break. Just remember that the flip side of “tired” at the end of a school year are the powerful, positive pond ripples and echoes that are going to be with your students for a very long time. They will remember you.
Len Hill is still coaching badminton for Paly. Diane (Heilman) Rolfe was one of my favorite teachers, too. “My fine scholars: I want you all to join the Archaeology Club.” She’s retired from teaching, but is very active with the Democratic Party.
Thanks, Arne; that is right! Diane is still the same as she was back in the day; when I had lunch with her she was staffing a booth for Democrats at a street fair on University Ave.