(I teach in an old brick high school from which the first class graduated in 1891. Photographs of past graduates line the halls outside my room. Through the window of my classroom door, I look upon their faces.)
The Teacher: To Those Outside My Room
Outside my room you sit at attention, in rows like checkerboard, as you sat in class so many years ago. You guard the halls like sentries, from two by three inch boxes, enclosed in glass and frame. Silent as stone, you stare into my classroom. Mitchell, Susan, Bruce and Connie. The class of 1968.
In the dark of a winter afternoon, alone on the third floor of Main, I march down the hall for coffee, on parade before your army of button down shirts, crew cuts, cashmere sweaters and ratted hair. Walking the gauntlet of your unyielding columns, I peer at faces, faded as old notes, into eyes of gray. Fossils of the squalls of youth, a glance of doubt, the glaze of despair, a glimmer of hope, the spark of a dream. You gaze unblinking into a world unknown.
In nineteen hundred sixty-eight, you left your ordered rows to promenade across the high school stage, to tumble out the school doors into gales of change. To trade weary afternoons solving Algebraic equations for sleepless nights mixing formulas of pabulum, journeys with Homer for trips with Pink Floyd, penny loafers and cardigans, for platoon boots, suits of jungle green, and flights to Vietnam.
What was it you needed to learn?
What could your teachers have told you?
What should they have taught you to help you find your way?
In the light of day, halls filled with warm bodies, your frozen faces retreat into colorless walls as the future passes in skin-tight jeans, pierced lobes and rainbow hair. Stoic soldiers, deaf to the buzz of electronic song, the sigh of the tattooed girl, the cuss of the skinny boy, the whispers of teens in love pressed against your frames. You keep watch, still as statues, as they careen from class to class, soon to bound out the school doors, to catapult into a world unknown.
Outside my classroom, you sit at attention, as you did many years ago. In the dark of a winter afternoon, when the halls have fallen quiet, you stare into my room.
What do I need to teach them?
What is it they need to know?
What can I say to help them find their way?