Every teacher, no matter how devoted, reaches a point in the semester or year when she’s had it, when the students have got to go, when the break is the only impetus driving her to function. This describes me at the end of each semester. In most cases, I want the students to leave so badly that it’s not until weeks later that I feel the full sadness of their absence. While most of my classes behave as an angel band, some of them can be regular devils. Some of them fight me; some of them love me; but all of them need me. And the semester depletes me of strength.
When I close my office door, with them gone for the semester, and with the last paper graded, the last grade posted, and the folders thrown away in jubilance, I take some time to lie back and rest from my work, glad that another class has gone forth. Inevitably, I ponder the painful 14 weeks of laboring to push mature, grammar savvy adults into the world. I think of the ones who miscarried-—left my class before I was able to teach them all they might have learned. Others cross my mind who were stillborn, as ignorantly dead as when they entered my class, achieving just what they had decided when first they claimed their seat—-failure. But the ones I hold to are the ones who, through a tight uncomfortable squeeze, persevered—and survived.
I never understood it—-the way that I’ve heard the cries of a woman in the last stages of natural childbirth, experiencing the most excruciating pain she might feel in her life, yet, not days later, with the baby swaddled next to her heart, she looks up and says, with a smile, “I can’t wait to have another one.”
But what about the pain? I wondered. What about the nausea, the discomfort, the inconvenience, the exhaustion? It never made sense.
Until one day, the sentiment became clear. Not a week after the last student had vacated campus, while I was cleaning out my desk I found my rosters. Fingering them, I grew excited about the rosters that would come to me next semester; my fingers itched to hold them, to peruse the row of names and imagine who each student will be. What trouble will they bring? What blessings will they bestow? What struggles will I help them overcome? What way will I watch them grow? What will they learn or reject? I visualized walking into the classroom and looking over the rows of faces all gazing up at me with guarded eyes suppressing curiosity.
And just like that, the labor of the previous semester vanished as I folded the roster and sighed, “I can’t wait to have another one.”