What I Miss About Teaching

Another school year comes to a close. One can almost hear Alice Cooper’s anthem playing in mono through a school’s PA after the last bell rings. That actually happened a couple of times during my teaching gigs. Some kids on student council with a bent for classic rock must have rigged it up.

I recall that song sounded pretty damn good reverberating through the the halls. I liked seeing all the papers flying in the air and the semi-smell of temporary rebellion in the air. Later, I would cull the shoes and clothing the students left behind in their lockers for the best suitable teenage togs for an older man to wear. I also scored dozens and dozens of unused notebooks and pens.

That glorious final day is no longer part of my world, the teaching world of the high school classroom. I still had work to do there, but, well, it’s going undone forever.

As I reflect upon my long, eclectic teaching career, particularly the run on the Oregon Coast, I think back to what I have sorely missed this past year and will never be able to recreate with adults in other teaching scenarios.

There was reading the unfiltered, unadorned, professor-free writing from writers who were ten times the writer I will ever be and trusted me with their inner-most thoughts. Somehow I got it out of them. I remember reading thousands of words at one sitting and not believing what I was reading, its raw quality, its searing originality. I miss reading those words. The final ones at Astoria High School and the Gray Alternative School were the best of my career. The talent in the youth here is otherworldly. It is borne of the absolute human misery this beautifully scenic town serves up, a juxtaposition I hope to explore in fiction one day.

Speaking of Astoria High School, it was my privilege to have a student who hit for The Quadruple Crown of sorts: best poem, best piece of creative nonfiction, best original song, best solo open mic performance of an original song. My deep regret is that I left this student in the lurch and I will never forgive myself for that. I only hope that the student pursues these talents to end of their natural born life and change lives with this monumental gift. I’ll be looking for it out there.

There were the field trips into rain, on trains, building forts, to Powell’s, to thrift stores, cemeteries, abandoned buildings, bridges, ports. God I miss those giddy moments on the move! I even miss those vexing moments when the malcontents skulked away to smoke dope or pet deer.

There was the laughter:

Hey Mr Love, I have a story about the Column for you. Do you want to hear it?”

Yes. Tell me.”

I took a dump off the Column…and the railing was tricky.”

Mr. Love, have you ever killed a man?”

Mr. Love, do you like canned corn?”

There was feeding hungry students in the early morning hours during the Great Recession and practically every morning of my coastal teaching career.There was arriving there at 5 a.m. in the mornings and making cheap coffee and looking around the room and feeling I was doing important work, the most important work of my life, while Thelonious Monk played on cassette.

There were the great student editors of my own writing because I put it out there just like I asked them to.

There were the newspaper and literary reviews coming out, and students reading their work in print (!) and seeing their faces and inked fingers when they did.

There were the open mics, the open mics, 150 or so of them. What I probably miss the most is sitting in the front row, running sound, doing this and that, watching a young person come alive in an extraordinary new way when they performed for the first time, hands often shaking, voice cracking, chords butchered, starting over, always finishing (no one ever didn’t finish a gig) and then…coming back for more because they got the drug.

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