When I walked out of The School on the Very Last Day in June, I honestly wasn’t sure what the future might hold. Would I walk back in, or would I be moving on to a new, different phase of life? Would we manage to sell the Current House, or would we still be looking for a buyer – or hoping for that potential buyer to clear that final financing hurdle?
So much happened in a few short weeks! But I’ll still be walking back into The School this morning, just as I have every August since 2001. Yes, a different classroom will be waiting; yes, I have new plans and goals for my students this year; yes, I have a plan – one that really does excite me – to build out the joyful learning community model in an exciting new direction, to see if young people who have been labeled as “bad and lazy” would like to change the world and discover their passions together.
But it will be a bittersweet walk. And the cool, rainy day only adds to that bittersweet feeling.
I’d been putting off buying and reading Rafe Esquith’s newest book, Real Talk for Real Teachers, though several friends had recommended it. Why? Because Rafe’s other books have inspired and moved me, have kept me going when I wanted to give up and go do something else … and I didn’t want that kind of inspiration. Not in July, when lots of new paths seemed open. Not in early August, when they started to close up. Not a week ago, right before I got sick with That Bug. And definitely not while I was sick and exhausted!
But on Saturday evening it was time to buy and read the e-book. If you’re a new teacher, and even more so if you’re in that mid-career period where it’s so easy to settle for “what you’ve always done,” it’s an amazing, inspirational, deeply practical read. Rafe is a master of working around the factory system, of not allowing bureaucracy and obstacles to deter him from his mission of serving and helping and inspiring children. I loved reading old, familiar stories retold with a new twist, and there are many new stories as well.
So I stayed up – not late, exactly, but later than I’d been able to stay awake for quite some today – to finish before I went to sleep. And then I stayed up later when this link showed up in a Google+ share. I could see how connected it was with the project I outlined in my rare Saturday post. Then I had a very quiet, ordinary-looking Sunday: church, a quick errand, some much-needed laundry, more rest and recovery time.
Rafe even has a few words for us grizzled veterans – for folks like me who have been in the game for decades. He talks about finding rhythm and mastery, about teach well but having time for family, for self, for outside interests. That’s something I’ve noticed, myself, the past few years.
As I drafted this post Sunday evening, cicadas were singing outside – a sad, haunting song that brings back memories of days long past, of other late summers when a much younger me dreamed very different dreams. Younger Me was going to change the world – or at least a few children’s worlds. I was going to be in This Place, and I was going to stay, rooting myself in its sandy soil like that big tree in the back yard. I had found not just my calling, I was sure, but a permanent expression of it: teaching Latin this way, in this school, to these young people and their successors.
I remember that Younger Me. I still look like him, wear similar clothes, drive to work in a car he bought. But Younger Me lived in a very different time. It wasn’t a perfect time by any means, despite the stories Ms. X and Mr. Y like to tell about teachers being “revered” and supplies being abundant, about mostly eager students and mostly supportive parents. But economically, culturally, politically, socially, things were different 20, 15, 10, even 5 years ago. “Work hard, go to college, get a good job in a nice, safe organization with benefits” – it wasn’t as big a lie then as it’s becoming.
As I write, two dear friends have moved long distances to start happy new chapters of their teaching careers in schools that definitely aren’t factories. Two others, tired of factory-ways, have walked out and walked on to new adventures. Others talk of “great opportunities” to work with families tired of factory schooling … families that “must be” in every community, families I haven’t yet connected with here. Others smile, still happy in factory structures. Others, now retired, enjoy “freedom” and new opportunities; still others, also retired, “might as well try subbing for a while,” unable or unwilling to leave the factory behind.
Me? I’m still in the middle of The Trembling.
There’s got to be a reason – many reasons – why the team, place, and time haven’t yet come together. I’m not ready … but will I ever be ready? Maybe someone else, or some set of conditions, isn’t ready. Either way, there’s still work for me to do in that old building.
Disappointment and nostalgia are an odd recipe for a Sunday evening in August, an odd, sad way to begin a rainy Monday morning. But when you’re building something meaningful together, you have to bring your whole self to the work – even the disappointed, nostalgic, sad, angry parts. Every time I walk the labyrinth at church, I’m sure that this journey, too, just has a few more twists and turns. But new ones – or same-old-same-old ones – keep appearing.
I wonder what new adventures await on this old but new day and those to come. Thanks for being part of the journey, fellow builders and sustainers of joyful community.