I love my job. I feel very privileged to say that. When I first began teaching, I always felt a little worried that my boss would find out just how much fun I was having and require me to be more somber. I am terribly blessed to be around people I like, using what I’ve studied, and doing what I love.
I can talk to you about why I love books all day long, but I will save that for another time. I want to focus on the crown jewel of teaching-my students. Before I had Emmie, I had approximately 141 children that I acquired over the past six years. Some I have had a couple of years in a row (because I teach ascending grades) and some I have had a couple of times a day. They are all very different, but they were, and are, splendid. I am emotionally invested in each one of them and pray for them regularly. They are quite dear to me.
I’ve taught lots of different age groups over the years, but have finally settled into teaching older kids. I like teaching high school students for a number of reasons. One, and this is purely self-serving, is that I find them hysterically funny. They are old enough to appreciate cleverness, but not yet so old that they are too tired to go to the trouble of creating witty jokes. One of the things I invisibly teach (and practice, and learn) in my class is storytelling, that dying art. We tell a LOT of funny stories in my class, and we all become better storytellers because of it. I think that is a useful and important skill, and I am glad we get to practice it together.
I also love teaching high school students because they are so festive. Teenagers embrace holidays with incredible abandon. Way back when I taught middle school geography, we had a continent party to conclude each unit of study. The kids brought food from a specified continent. They could also bring in souvenirs or artifacts from that part of the world to share, but let’s be real-everyone was there for the food. And we ate WELL. The party for North America became a kind of legend. Another time in my freshmen English class, we commemorated our normal liveliness by committing to speak in whispers on Thursday. They were rapt with attention on Thursdays because of this deviation from our normal routine, and we had an awfully fun time whispering. Truly, it’s the little things that are cause for great pomp and flourish.
But for all of the things that I love, there is one thing I hate, I hate, I hate about my job, and that is the arrival of spring. I adore warmer weather and flowers and all that the spring brings, except for what it means for people in my line of work. The arrival of spring is the death knell of the school year. It means that summer is approaching, and at its beginning, graduation. It means that these young people that I love so thoroughly will soon be moving on, and a select few will be leaving our school forever. And the selfish part of me hates that, because I miss them so.
Every group of students I have ever taught has been brilliant, as I’ve said, and this group of seniors I have now is no exception. I have taught these people for their ninth, eleventh and twelfth grade years. We were smiling earlier this week at their freshmen yearbook, freshly surprised at how young they once looked and, consequently, how almost grown they are now. I have instructed them, admonished them, defended them, and loved them for the past four years. They are precious and good, smart and witty, compassionate and strong. And I cannot believe they are about to graduate.
I told them at the beginning of this quarter that I would probably cry in class a lot until school lets out. (This is not really all that shocking since the books we read make me cry all of the time.) And I was right-I have gotten teary exactly four times since their final quarter in high school began. Mostly, I cry when they read this poem*, a task they perform at the beginning of class each day. I haven’t explained the poem to them yet. We’re still letting it sink in and do its work. But the symbolism is so fitting and beautiful for this particular group at this particular time. The poem is titled after Ithaca, the island that Odysseus is hoping to reach in The Odyssey. It is beautiful because Ithaca is both the destination and home of Odysseus. And isn’t that full of truth? Our ultimate destination is our Home. The poem’s narrator implores readers to hope for a long journey to Ithaca, one that will hold excitement and lessons, to not be afraid of myths and monsters, to have rich experiences and enjoy the journey. But then, and this is key, the narrator instructs the readers to, “Have Ithaca always in your mind,” the line that sends me to my tears.
I want that for these kids, and for all of my others: For them to have Ithaca always in their minds. Their homes, their parents, siblings, friends and teachers, the people that raised them up to this point-I hope they hold us in their minds. Even when they won’t hold us in their hearts. Even when they can’t hold us in their hands. I hope we are in their thoughts and memories, cheering for them to do the right things, to try the hard ways, to be everything we have always known they can be. I want them to look to the future full of courage, excitement and vision. I want them to rush forward and stand firmly on the shoulders of people who have lifted them up. I want them to begin this journey toward responsible adulthood with their own Ithacas in mind, their future homes and families, that great weight of responsibility and joy on their shoulders, full of purposed affection. That will be the onus that guides them continually toward truth, and that assurance is what allows me to send them out with confidence. I am so thankful to Jesus for providing a way for me to reach my Ithaca, and for His similar provision for those I love. I wish them each (and by them I mean you all-I know you’re reading) splendid journeys, full of wonder and struggle and triumph and joy.
And I ask you- look me up every now and then, because even though I get a fresh batch of children each year, I still miss the old ones. I will only ever cheer you on toward Home.
(Other former students that aren’t in this class: This poem is for you too. I just discovered it this year, thanks to Hannah.)
* “Ithaca”, Constantine Cavafy