I remember the end of my fifth grade year in school. Just like most kids, I couldn’t wait until the end of school and the beginning of summer. The thought of endless days playing by the creek, or one-out baseball in the cul-de-sac filled my dreams. But something was different about the end of school that year. I knew I was going to miss my classmates and my teacher, Mrs. Williford. I couldn’t help but think that something important was passing away. Something important was being left behind as I left the school, for the last time, and headed into the summer. Part of it was that I was leaving Rummel Creek Elementary School for the final time. I started attending the school in the second grade, and between that first day there, and my last day in fifth grade, that school was part of my home. Leaving it was not easy. I didn’t break down and cry, just felt a strong sense of sadness as I left the school one last time. A period of my life was coming to an end. I was moving from elementary school to junior high.
Our lives are filled with a lot of “last times.” We all have them and they are like bookmarks in our lives that help us remember the big or formative events.
For me, Rummel Creek was the beginning of the many “last times.” The 44 years since that time are filled with one after another. There are times that are “last times” but that I don’t really consider memorable, like the last time I left Alfred’s Restaurant, where I worked as a busboy and then in the deli slicing up meat. Or the time I left the Greenery, the restaurant in the Sheraton Inn where I worked as a busboy. While those were two of my first three jobs, I didn’t lament their passing.
Graduating from high school was definitely a “last time” moment for me. I was both thrilled that I graduated at all, but terrified about the future. I say “thrilled” because it wasn’t until halfway through my senior year that anyone told me I would graduate. The counselor took me aside and told me that if I would just pass art, I had an “F”, that I would graduate. I was truly shocked at the news because, up until that point, the only thing the teachers told me about my future was that I needed to get over to Vo-tech and learn to be a mechanic since I would never graduate, much less go on to college. I never took them up on their advice because I didn’t like cars, and certainly didn’t like getting my hands dirty.
Walking across that stage in May of 1979 to receive my diploma was the first accomplishment of my academic career. In fact, outside of reading my first real book when I was 12, I cannot think of any major distinguishing events of my education up to that point. So the “last time” of leaving high school, and graduating, was one of those moments that had its effect on me, both the thrill of an accomplishment, and the fear of the future.
There were other “last times” as well. I remember the last time I saw the USCGC Sedge, a ship that I spent the hardest 14 months of my life. It was hard physically and emotionally, being stationed in Alaska, working on buoys for long hours, taking care of the ship, and dealing with the difficult life of the sea. But even given that difficulty, the last time I saw the ship, it brought both pain and jubilation.
We were actually in Hawaii and I had orders to attend electronics school in New York. The training went on and I loaded my stuff up in a taxi, headed to the airport, and boarded a plane for San Francisco. As the plane lifted off the runway, I looked down in the water only to see the Sedge running drills. I was both grateful to leave, and a tad bit sad that the challenge was over. It made such an impression upon me, that I would have dreams and nightmares about it for years to come, with the predominant dream/nightmare being centered on me needing to get back to the ship before it got underway, and not being able to get there.
There were many more, like the last time I saw my bases in both Italy and Turkey, the last time I saw the apartment where I lived in College Station, the last time I saw the duplex I lived in while a reporter in Wichita Falls, the last time I saw my dorm room at DTS, the last time I saw the sanctuary in Osceola, AR, the last time I played golf on the course where I learned the game, Bogeyville, outside of Aiken, SC. The last time I preached in the pulpit at Redeemer Christian Fellowship in Roswell, NM. The last time I left the house where my family lived in Roswell. The last time Heidi and I looked at our home on Belmont in Bristol, TN.
And finally, the last time I walked out of my classroom at Drane Intermediate in Corsicana, TX. I was both relieved and slightly sad that it was finally over. It was probably the worst year of my life, professionally speaking. Out of all the jobs I have had over the years, it was the hardest, by far, for many reasons. I will not go into any of the details, but will say that the profession of teaching is more and more challenging.
Not only is the state maliciously raising the standards, but the children are less and less capable of learning. I say that the state is malicious in their raising of the standards because they are asking children whose minds have yet to develop, to deal with concepts that their brains are not ready to process. It it is nearly impossible to teach the abstract to a mind that does not yet have the ability to grasp it.
Another reason that children are less capable of learning is that their minds are being cluttered with the use of iPhones and gaming. It is proving to have affects on the brain, one of which, the more we play them, the less we can think deeply and it prevents them from having the ability to pay attention in class (see here). The class we were dealing with was the most difficult the school has seen in years and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that these kids have never known life without a phone of some sort in their hands.
Teaching will only become more and more difficult as the years progress because more and more parents are using such devices to placate their children.
All this to say, that this “last time” is quite troubling to me. I was grateful it was the last time I left my classroom. But given that I’m remaining in the teaching profession, I will have a few more teaching “last times” ahead of me.