My second school year prepares to enter its fifth week and I feel it only just that I post for myself and others my thoughts and reactions thus far.
This year's freshmen are divided into five homerooms (two Friday groups) and I teach Western Civilization to them all. The nature of the new schedule means that I can only teach history this year; no religion class to comment on, but I'm kept busy enough with the 117 students in five history classes.
This year has already started to move smoother than the last in many respects, though some age-old problems do persist. Regardless, I am better prepared with a year of teaching under my belt and months' worth of plans to use. I am planning and preparing much further in advance than last year. This has added a greater amount of inflexibility to my classroom experience; one of the things I admired about myself last year was my flexibility - but I'm coming to realize that my flexibility arose more from less careful planning. I do suppose this is an issue I shall have to address as time moves forward, but for now, I'm revelling in the fact that I'm more organized than I've ever been in my life.
Last weekend, I spent a great deal of time grading quizzes. I felt like a normal teacher for the first time in a long time (if not ever): 11 out of 22 students in my developmentally-worst class passed my quiz on Egypt! Now, true, that is a 50% failure rate as much as it is a 50% passing rate, but consider that last year I had failure rates approaching 100% in my developmentally-worst class and, well.... Consider that only 2 students out of 22 failed in my "best" class and 17 of them got A's! That's phenomenal!
I am, understandably, very excited this year. I learned so much last year and this year is going much easier. More students and more work, but I'm better armed as an educator, I believe. Hopefully, progress of this sort will continue.
Finally, I have a sad bit of news. In August, a student of mine from last year was shot and killed in Newark. I felt the need then to come on here and write, but I could not bring myself to post or to talk about it much with anyone. Perhaps it was a form of denial? If I don't blog about it, he'll come back... foolishness, yes, but I didn't want to write about it.
Shakespeare's MacBeth has one of the most famous soliloquies about death:
To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
These words echoed in my mind in the hours and days after I'd learned of this child's death, the extinguishing of his "brief candle." As a Catholic, I know the deep meaning of life. I know also the deeper meaning of death. MacBeth despaired in the face of his own mortality. I was confronted with my own mortality the day the lad was taken. I replayed my high school years in my mind and reflected on what the boy would never know, never experience, never feel... It crushed me.
Life is not a walking shadow, even if it does creep in this petty pace from day to day. It does creep onward, however, without the boy's presence in our halls. But his life, far from lighting fools the way to dusty death, has inspired his fellow classmates to work harder and to love more. It has inspired me to value every Tomorrow and Tomorrow for I know that before I realize it, the sound and fury will cease. The hope will be that it signified something.
I dedicate this blog to the memory of Bukhari Washington, to all who loved him and love him still. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.
And so on I go... tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.