An Elegy for a Public School Teacher

Another of my former high school teachers passed away yesterday. Others have passed previously, but this passing is a little different. No it’s not a difference based upon favoritism or even preference. You see those other teachers who have since left us physically were older back when I was in school. A few had even taught some of their colleagues at the time I sat in their classrooms.

Of course exceptions exist to any generality, but until yesterday those younger teachers during my high school days who have since passed had ongoing health problems at the time. The specific health issue to which I am referring is diabetes which as most realize can be controlled to live a productive life but still wrecks havoc upon one’s physical being. I know that scourge but not from personal affliction. My Dad went approximately 30 years just with dietary changes, exercise, and a few pills before needing to give himself insulin injections. Those injections continue today even though he is now legally blind from the toll the condition took on his eyes. My Livingston Parish upbringing and roots in the strawberry fields always had me think of diabetes as the human crown rot.

To my knowledge this teacher who passed yesterday did not suffer from such as disease. While she was a younger teacher in my school days, she ultimately became a colleague to many with whom I walked those same hallways and sat beside in classrooms. The Albany population may have grown to the level where the village is now a town, but that changing of the guard, passing of the torch from one generation to the next continues.

In the yesterdays, my days and before, I like to think that the public school teacher received more respect and appreciation than those today. The quality of the public school teacher today is similar to those of yesteryear. In fact in terms of subject knowledge the public school teacher might be more learned than their predecessors.

The changes in public regard are not the result of the teachers being that different. I honestly don’t think students inside the classrooms are dramatically diverse from the past. It is that student’s life outside the classrooms, school buildings, and school grounds which are poles apart.

How can a student concentrate when their hunger causes the stomach to grumble? How can a student focus when their trek to reach that classroom might entail similar obstacles and dangers found where a warzone may rumble?  How can a student respect or at least be open minded and positive about teachers and learning when parents, media, representatives all grumble?

It’s these attitudes, the environments from which the young spring forth that have changed more than the public school teacher. Learning involves work. It takes commitment. It requires patience. Yet outside those school classrooms, instant gratification has somehow become a right versus something earned if  gratification, instant or not, even exists in reality. Tools are no longer instruments to make a job faster or more efficient but are promoted as replacements for knowing how to do the job with or without any additional tools. People become rich, powerful, famous, and influential merely from telling others what they want to hear and saying it loudly to fan any spark of negative emotion into roaring flames.

Despite what these pundits say, our own eyes and ears can see and hear that we are not in a utopia. Could that be because of our own shortcomings? No, the pundits guide us into believing that it’s because someone else, usually those without a loud voice, are failing to provide what these savants purport as the truth. They and we seem to argue that digressions and failures are the responsibility of others but not of us.

The public school teacher has become an easy scapegoat for so many. A scapegoat because that public school teacher has been tasked with eliminating all symptoms of decay but not allowed to address any of the root problems which causes the visible indication. Sadly there can be a 12 inch seeping, open, infected wound, and the public school teacher is expected to be a savior who should purchase a small band aid on their own dime and apply it in a manner that not only closes the gash but miraculously debrides, disinfects, and leaves behind no scar as well. Why do they alone have that responsibility in the eyes of so many today?

An Elegy for a Public School Teacher

No this passing and career should not be an elegy. How can one lament that which edifies?

Here is a remembrance, spontaneous thoughts for:

An Epitaph for a Public School Teacher

Thank you for your service, dedication, and commitment. I was just a kid walking into your classroom although I often felt like I already knew everything worth knowing. I could be sullen at times, over exuberant at times, and just chaotic both inside and out. No matter what, you took the time the listen. You took the time to tell my why. You endured the tribulations as you instructed me on how to learn how. You demonstrated through action that you were there and there because you sincerely cared.

Today I hear some say that your goal and others in the same profession’s goal is only a want, need, or desire to indoctrinate young minds.

If that is true, my public school teachers failed. They failed both then and today. I am certain of this failure because thinking back we as students differed in what we believed. You failed because I look at my old classmates today, and we have all traveled differing paths. There are RNs, JDs, PhDs, and DVMs. There are entrepreneurs who started their own businesses. Others served in the military. We have representation in the heart, soul, and very essence to the core of America:  truck drivers, welders, construction workers, engineers, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and so on; Respiratory therapists, dental hygienists, paralegals, CPAs, and more. We have farmers, Fire Chiefs, law enforcement and in my opinion some of the best Moms, Dads, Aunts, Uncles, neighbors, and positive influences on others in the world today.

My classmates and I have traveled different paths. We have sought different milestones. Some of us have remained in contact in the years since. With others the paths have yet to cross again. We don’t always agree. Many of my closest friends from those school days as well as friends and peers walking and talking past me as I type disagree with me adamantly about events within my supposed “expertise” according to my professional credentials. We’re still friends even though we disagree about politics and legislation. We’re friends because our public school teachers did not indoctrinate. They did not require or even want us to imitate.

Our teachers taught us to think, not as they think but as individuals ourselves. They encouraged us to read and listen. We were supposed to communicate with those who agree and disagreed. They taught us about and from different perspectives and the necessity of trying to see through the eyes of another or to walk in their shoes to obtain an understanding of what is happening. They taught us patience and perseverance.

Our teachers took boys and helped them become men. They helped girls become women. They helped us become concerned and involved individuals. We kids started to become adults.

Our teachers would not accept us merely following them. They spoke about the materials. They assisted in gathering the equipment. They demonstrated different ways in which those supplies could be combined.

You see each of these public school teachers carried a unique lantern. Their lanterns extended a light into the darkness for us to discover the resources to build our own lanterns.

Our teachers strove to have us take those lanterns we built out into the darkness. For we were and are to shine our light to uncover things of which we might never know existed without benefit of illumination. With our discoveries we were charged with the responsibility to construct that which had not been created previously. We were to illuminate the unknown for others. We were to rediscover what had been lost or forgotten.

Our teachers were the gatekeepers to a labyrinth of threshholds. These doorways we had to open and ultimately discover more pathways and doors for us and those who follow to open. We became a part of an ongoing relay. It was never meant to be a short or straight sprint. It’s a lifelong journey.

Our public school teachers handed us the baton to carry through the maze, and as you see all of those lights flickering in the darkness, each flame in each individual lantern, each filament in every bulb and every iota of elucidation has a unique glow yet shares a similar kinship.

With appreciation that words cannot convey, thank you to all teachers who took the time to care, to give back, and to be that pathfinder and illuminating, edifying presence to help discover that to which we are sometimes blinded by too much light or to which we might have been unable to find in the dark.

It is not an elegy.

It is an Epitaph for a Public School Teacher.

Rest in Peace…

One of the best film productions I know to illustrate the prestige to which teachers can achieve is from Season 3, Episode 37 of the Twilight Zone which debuted on 1 June 1962.  This episode is “The Changing of the Guard.”

“After being forced to retire, Professor Fowler contemplates suicide when he doesn’t feel he has made a difference in the world. That night he has an experience that shows him that he is wrong” (IMDb).

My public school teachers left me the same treasures that Professor Fowler unknowingly gave his students.