Besides writing for a living, I teach school, and I’m not ashamed to tell people that I still love my classroom. I’ve been a teacher for 33 years, all of them in the same school district, and virtually all of them in the same building. But I also have to tell you that if the next few weeks don’t slide by pretty quickly, I may just let loose of the last thread of sanity from which I have been dangling for a while now. There are a lot of teachers out there who feel the same way.
I know, it sounds like whining; but teaching isn’t nearly as easy as it looks, and it’s harder now than ever before. Despite there being so many folks around who are more than happy to tell us how to do our jobs, there are precious few who would actually want to trade professions with us. Kids go just a little crazy this time of year — that gorgeous “super moon” didn’t help last week — and I can’t say that I blame them much: I’m a bit stir-crazy myself, kind of like the inmate who’d take work detail chopping weeds and digging ditches just to get out of his cell for a little while.
It isn’t hard for me to remember my own grade school days and how antsy I was to get out of school once warm weather came calling. I loved being a kid — realized it even then — and I was always just about bursting at the seams to get away from those hard, wooden desk chairs we endured so I could get into short pants and out of shoes for a few months.
I wasn’t exactly Huckleberry Finn — my mom didn’t want me to have any part of rafting the river or watching gunplay in the streets — but wading creeks and skipping stones and fighting imaginary “bad guys” with sassafras sticks — complete with spittle-inducing sound effects — were activities that usually sat pretty high on my daily summer vacation agendas.
My summers were not without some education. My mom always encouraged the three of us kids to read, but books were for bedtime and rainy days and upset-stomach-on-the-couch kinds of afternoons (I usually convinced Mom that pudding would make me feel better.). We always went to Bible school and church camp, too, so I hardly turned into an unwashed heathen.
I still remember the hot summer mornings around our house that usually began in earnest after I had pushed my chair back from the kitchen table, a slop bucket-sized bowl of cereal already consumed. How happy I was to hear Mom say, “Get back to the house by noon for lunch.”
I don’t think I ever told my folks that it was too hot outside to play; it wouldn’t have done much good anyway. Our house was shaded by a canopy of oak and beech trees, but it still got pretty warm, for we had no air conditioner, just open screened windows and old box fans. We never slept late, either; Mom wouldn’t hear of it, so I was usually outside and under the shade of our trees, almost always with an army of plastic soldiers, by 8 a.m. Besides, had I stayed indoors, I’d have been given chores to do. I was certain in those days that my mother had, in a former life, been in charge of an Alabama prison work gang. So, as soon as I could, I normally blew out of the house as if it were on fire.
I do recall one summer when Mom signed me up to attend a summer school program in town, something that most would have thought I’d taken like a death sentence. But, it wasn’t remedial or forced or punitive. She knew that I loved microscopes and test tubes (no, I didn’t wear taped black glasses and carry a brief case), so she got me into a sort of biology camp. I loved it. About a dozen of us young intellectuals took a few trips by bus to the woods — nothing new to me — but we also waded knee-deep into a pond to collect algae-laden water samples and hunted fossils and inspected leaves. I was never happier to step onto Glen Salmon’s school bus than I was on the mornings I went into town that summer; besides, I was back home after a lunch of warm baloney sandwiches and a banana to spend the rest of the day “messing around.”
When September arrived — we didn’t go back to school in those days until after Labor Day — I was usually ready to head to the classroom, a new teacher, and the company of my friends, who like me, had mostly been cut off from the outside world during summer vacation. The allure of a new box of crayons and untouched notebooks, of unsharpened pencils and pristine erasers, was too much to resist, so I was usually standing near our mailbox and ready to board the bus when the time came.
This summer will be a busy one for me; I’ll be back to messing around again. Oh, I don’t plan to build a dam across Spring Creek or camp with my buddy, Charlie, or snag crawdads out of the ditch across the road after a good rain. I can’t fish with my granddad; don’t think it’s advisable to climb trees or swing grapevines behind my cousins’ place, either… But, I do plan to get after writing a new book, and I want to read late into the night and put a few miles on my bike, and I want to have enough time to listen to my own thoughts. I’ll become one of the boys of summer again.
Believe it or not, I’ll be ready to go back to school this August. I’ll meet new students and try new lessons and get back into the groove of late-night grading and early morning liaisons with the photocopier and a slightly funky coffeemaker. I’ll go back to eating my lunch out of a bag and waiting half a day at a time to run to the bathroom and I’ll tell bad jokes.
After all, I’m a teacher; that’s what I do…
Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com for information about signings and speaking opportunities. He is working on his fourth book.