School begins tomorrow. One hundred new 8th graders will show up in my classroom. The official title of the class is US History, but the real instruction concerns teaching adolescents how to live. This is difficult, and a teacher must compete with all sorts of noise that diverts the attention of teenagers.
Cell phones for one. Television for another. And of course, the odd desire for teens to congregate at malls and waste their time among baubles, bangles and beads. They tend to gather there in packs and simply roam about. They do not yet understand the concept of opportunity cost. All time spent in frivolity is time that is lost for the better things in life—reading, contemplation and walking alone in God’s creation. Perhaps these will eventually assume a proper place in their lives. But until then the struggle is constant.
I can scarcely remember my own teenage years, lost as they are in the mists of time. I did begin to work when I was 9 years of age, and kept at it all though those years and on into adulthood. I was never unemployed except for my college years, when the GI Bill allowed me to study and read and indulge my senses with little thought about a paycheck. After it was gone I took all sorts of jobs, until on a whim I accepted a teaching post in Costa Rica. I was 36. I had at last found the reason I was put upon this earth.
Tomorrow begins the 18th year of this vocation. I would not consider doing anything else. Besides bartending and playing the Blues guitar, teaching is the only thing I am really good at. Oddly, tending bar and teaching have much in common. Teaching is better, though being good at it requires a great deal of patience. I cannot tell you how times when I was asked by someone what my occupation was, and I responded that I taught teenagers, that the person looked at me with a strange fascination, as if I were a little mad. I am of course—and perhaps more than a little. Perhaps all teachers are.
Last year I was at our assembly that always closes our day at school. In the auditorium were 300 kids, all rustling about, talking and generally behaving as kids do when they are surrounded by their peers. I asked another teacher what it would be like if some person were dragged in from the street and place there with us. Without missing a beat my colleague said, “He would be afraid, and perhaps fearful of his life.” No doubt.
I was once afraid as well. It was my first day of teaching at that little school in Costa Rica. With no teaching experience whatsoever, I suddenly found myself in front of a dozen adolescents. My fear showed, as I had my hands in my pockets and nervously jingled some coins I had in them. But it only lasted a few minutes. I discovered on that day that teaching was going to be a great deal of fun. I have never once looked back.
This new year that starts tomorrow has all the makings of the best of my professional life. But then I always feel this way at the beginning of every new year.
I have been immeasurably blessed, beyond all reason, beyond all comprehension.