Over the course of a lifetime, a person who wants to work and is compelled to work generally will hold many different positions from his senior-in-high-school years to the really senior years. However, there will always be that primary job, the one used to bring home the bacon and raise a family.
For me, it was a job that found me as much as I found it. After leaving the tutelage of some very fine instructors and matriculating to Miami University in Southwestern Ohio, I really didn’t have much of a clue as to what to do work-wise with my life.
While I choose English, my best high school subject, as a major, perhaps as a springboard to go into broadcasting or law, I really didn’t connect my major to teaching until urged to do so by my academic advisor.
Following my graduation from Miami in 1973, I began my 32-year teaching trek, one that took me through three high schools — Perry, Allen East and St. Marys Memorial — and it served me so very well, thanks in large part to scores of young people who came ready to learn and accepted what I had to offer and, for the most part, extremely supportive administrators.
Certainly, it’s been quite some time since I put my chalk on the blackboard ledge for the last time at the end of the 2004-05 school year. That means a wide-eyed first-grader during my last year by now would have graduated from college and is out in the full-time work world by now! As we all know, save the very young who see each day as an eternity in reaching to reach a short-term goal like a driver’s license, the celerity with which time passes is logic-defying.
Given the amount of time I have been conspicuously absent from any classrooms, you’d think I’d have moved on so very far from what I used to do. However, given the regularity with which I dream of being back in school settings teaching tells me that there is part of me that is still very much tethered to my past.
So, here we are again, the dawn of a new school year for many schools, a welcoming back to students who spent a large portion of last school year remotely learning as the result of something none of us could have even fathomed was possible before it started.
Recently, I stumbled upon a “Twilight Zone” episode while streaming called “The Changing of the Guard,” a story about an old private school English professor named Fowler. After being forced to retire due to his advanced age, Fowler contemplated suicide, so miserable was he and so convinced was he that what he’d done for all those years made little difference to any sat before him.
However, in true “Twilight Zone” fantasy, when Fowler returned to his old classroom to sit at his desk a final time in front of all those empty student seats, there magically appeared several former students, all killed in World War II. Fowler questioned each as to whether any of the lessons he taught really made a difference in their lives. And, one by one, they approached him at his desk, a bit older, as they were when they were killed in the war, and each enumerated a valuable lesson he imparted, compelling Fowler to dismiss his suicidal thoughts.
While Professor Fowler and those like me who retired voluntarily were different, I think a lot of teachers can relate to Fowler’s self-doubts as to how much impact on students’ lives they really had.
In my own case, sadly, despite trying so very hard, I know not every student was the success story for which I’d hoped. For whatever the reason, be it more the fault of the student or me, the results weren’t there.
However, what I think about one of Antioch College’s most distinguished graduates, “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling, showed so brilliantly by episode’s end is that Professor Fowler’s efforts did indeed matter far more than he could’ve ever imagined.
Often, my mind rolls back the years to those who sat before me, at Perry, Allen East and, of course, St. Marys Memorial, but, unlike Professor Fowler’s students who supernaturally return older than they were when they were students to speak from beyond the boundaries of mortality, my students, all of them, remain in my mind, in perpetuity, as they once were, at 16 or 17 years old, despite the fact that they are now so very much older, the earliest, impossibly, now Medicare recipients.
So, to the teachers returning for yet another school year, those of you who will be crafting your legacies upon which you’ll one day in retirement ponder, keep the faith and know that if your work ethic is strong enough, your efforts will matter far more than you may ever realize.
And, long after your charges have left you, I truly believe they’ll realize that too.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]