Tuesday, June 05, 2007

turn out the lights

Today I said goodbye for the last time to my classes. I gave them all my contact information and urged them not to hesitate to contact me for any reason. There were many promises and I think I'll be hearing from some although only time will tell how many, how often and for how long.
Goodbyes are often awkward, and today was no exception. I took some time to tell the kids how much I appreciated this year and how big a role they had played in making my year unforgettable and rewarding. At the end of class, the kids filed out slowly saying over and over again, "bon retour!"
Instinctively I began collecting my things from my desktop. Then I looked up and noticed that there were still six or seven students standing there in the middle of the room. They were silent, shifting their weight from foot to foot. We looked at each other, smiling shyly, completely at a loss for words yet content to prolong the parting a moment longer. I've never experienced a situation quite like this. Beneath all the wishes for a good summer, good luck next year, etc...was the rather stark realization that the chances of seeing one another again were slim.
My heart really goes out to them. They are emblematic of youthful hopes and dreams, of a desire for companionship and connection, and of a yearning for a lovely life, and the end of a school year marks a step in that inexorable march towards the confinements and compromises of adulthood. It's not that the future is bleak for them necessarily; it's just that this passage "out of grace" as Dylan Thomas put it and into adulthood is poignant.
In my work as a teacher I have come to alternately love and be exasperated by adolescence. I wouldn't return to that age for any amount of money and yet I hope that I never lose touch with that spirit, that vulnerability, that invincible ignorance of and unalterable faith in the fullness of time.
Somehow we manage to find the right words which will allow our feet to take us to the door. One by one they file away into the shadows of the corridor. I can hear one of the girls repeating, "Je vais pas pleurer." (I'm not going to cry.) One girl lingers. She is someone that I have thought about the last few days of the term. I have suspected that I had frustrated her with my teaching style and my tests. Her facial expressions had often communicated as much. It was one of those situations where I felt regret, and I felt as though my best had not been good enough. Yet here she was. She wanted to thank me, she said, because this class had caused her to renew her interest in English. I told her that I was thrilled to hear that and I wished her luck. With a sweet smile she turned and disappeared down the hall.
I stood there in the doorway to the classroom, utterly alone...I fumbled in my pocket for my keys, reached inside for the light switch, and looked at the empty chairs and desks for another moment before turning off the lights. Two years earlier, it would never have entered my imagination, the notion of me entering such a classroom, of me teaching in a high school in France, and here I was about to close the door on ten months of having done just that. I flipped off the lights and drew the door to a close. I couldn't quite believe it.
As I made my way down the hall I heard footsteps coming from the intersecting hallway ahead. I arrived there at the same time as Ysoline, the one I had heard murmuring earlier on her way out the door. We walked side by side for a little, the awkwardness there once more. Finally, I started to leave when she asked me if I was in a band.
I turned and walked back to her. I leaned my back against the wall. I told her no, and I confessed to her that I only played by myself for fun, that I didn't really know how to read or write music or even play music with other people but that it was something I still hoped to do one day. She listened quietly.
Are you in a group? I asked.
I tried to start a group but...it's a long story.
What music do you like?
Metallique.
Of course you do, I thought to myself. She wore a spiked collar around her neck, piercings in her ears and nose, black clothers and a teeshirt with a German metal band's picture blazoned across the front.
Do you sing? I asked.
Yes.
Yet ... if I had to pick the softest spoken, most humble and modest, most careful and considerate student among my students, it might easily be Ysoline. It had never occurred to me to imagine a side of her not visible in the context of my classroom. Ten months with someone and you don't know something as important as this?
I imagine that it's hard to keep a band together.
She nodded and smiled.
At that moment I wished more than anything that she could have her wish and get to stand on a stage with a band and sing, shriek, and shout into a microphone to her heart's content. And I wished, selfishly, that I could have the chance to see her do that.
Keep trying, I said. It's worth it.
Yes.
And then we parted, again, but this time for good.
Thank you, Ysoline, for risking the effort, for trying. You inspire me.
K

3 Comments:

Anonymous cjones said...

Mmmmmmm. Poignant! And nice.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Ysoline said...

I have try to write a comment but they is anything.
I would like to say you "thank you". I liked this year. I never like english but this time yes. It's funny ^^.
I'll try to continue music with my band and I hope to see you if I sing (one day...)
I hope to have your new.
Good Bye.
Ysoline

p.s : I have not piercing in my nose but my ears (yes) in my navel and my tongue !

4:48 AM  
Anonymous Delphine said...

I want to you say THANK YOU. Thank you for all you had learnt us, thank you for your kindless, your humour, and thank you for the experience you gave us. You say this year was very important and unforgettable for you, but for us, it was also a chance to have a real American like teacher ! Every student would have it !!
So, thank you and I hope you keep pleasant memories of France.
I wish you and your family a very good return.

Best wishes, Delphine.

5:43 AM  

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