Stretching Out There Somewhere

Where have all the flowers gone? That allusion implies how long I’ve been in the classroom

Came here to Hope College in 1971. Thought I’d stay maybe three or four years. Wednesday, April 23, thirty-seven years later, I walked out of my last class

Felt a little like Icarus in that Bruegel painting. Not that I plunged to my death. But I sure plunged. And all around me were students and teachers heading to their classes or meetings or study dates or out to lie in the first sunshine of spring, many of the students chattering away on their cell phones. I looked at the buildings where I got to be with my students and the one where I had my office, then walked to the car and drove home.

The scary thing about having a teaching life close down is that you have so little to measure it by. You hope that you did a lot more good than harm. And yet realizing even one harmful result could ignite a forest fire in your mind burning away any hopes for good memories that were trying to sprout, thrive, and offer some comforting shade.

So, you go home. When you walk in the door, Charlie the dog runs to greet you. A bit later Julie comes home from real work. You sit with her on the couch, turn on ESPN, take her hand, and feel all of what lies ahead stretching out there somewhere.

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8 thoughts on “Stretching Out There Somewhere

  1. Jack–If you do find the one harmful result I hope you also know that the year after a good burn is the best time to find beautiful morel mushrooms, sauteed in a little real butter and you have a feast.
    I for one have not been harmed…even when I lost my words and didn’t know what to do and you tried to finesse the thought and I wanted to flee. It was good. The comments on my doddle and not just the writing, affirmed. And I know others who were blessed. Tom as he built scenery and you sat in the house taking it all in or when you pitted the two romantics (Tom and Char) against the room full of neoclassical-ists (I think…humm…). It isn’t everything and always and perfect, but that just means it’s probably good soil for another season. Thank you. Meg Boelman

  2. Can it really be almost ten years since I took your intro to poetry class? Must be. Every now and then we get a gift, and it makes all the difference. Your class came at just the right time for me. Oh my, did I ever need poetry. This summer, I have a class of nine poetry students of my own. I’ve cut the busy work out of my syllabus, finally, and I’m just lettin’ them do their writing. And they’re responding, and caring, and writing really fine poems. Your ways keep on and keep on helping me. Thanks for so much. Laura

  3. Pingback: With Thanks « Morceau

  4. Thirty-seven years of outrageously lucky students. Yes, we were very, very lucky indeed to sit in the dungeon with you. Thanks. Katie B

  5. Although I still have a couple more years until I have that feeling of walking away while student life goes on, I too have felt that tug regarding how many lives I may have hurt by a word, suggestion, or grade. We do more good than harm, my dear friend, Jack, because even though we may have accidently fallen into this vocation, our intent has always been to do good. The flowers are there, you just get the chance to enjoy them more. Best wishes and I will think of you in the fall when leaves turn, and the breeze turns chill, and many fresh faces walk in the door to challenge me to be my best once again.

  6. Well, I’m not great at math and I’m not sure how many sections you taught, nor how many students you had in each class each semester – but I’ll venture to guess that around 12,000 students passed in and out of your classroom. That is a lot of people influenced by your generous spirit and wisdom. That is like having 12,000 kids of your own! Where else, but as a teacher, can anyone hope to have so much opportunity to make a difference in people lives. How lucky for you. How lucky for them.

  7. I am so quietly pleased to find this site. My life is different because of you and your classroom. As a mom of two, with one on the way, my words are found most days only in love notes to my husband. That is a good place for them now and he is thankful. I hope your next phase is all you dare to dream it to be.

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