Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It is currently Wednesday night after the back to school staff BBQ hosted by the Foothill Technology High School Parent Faculty Student Organization...

Just sitting here reading my incoming student's "I Believe" essays; some I know who the authors are, but mostly they are just names to me for the present - but I read the words and the ideas and emotions and then I file them away until next Monday when I can put a face to the name. "Becka R." "Carina A." "Sid C." "Jeff S." I could not pick any of them out of a police lineup, and yet by next June and after nine months of some 8 hours a week together and scores of essays about a variety of topics I will most surely know them well. Each is a fully developed young adult, the product of many, many teachers and parents and sixteen years of life. It comes across when they write to me "what I believe."

The pulse of the beating life of the human heart in these essays always intimidating me a bit... the responsibility of being in charge of a significant part of their education for the next year - the weight, the honor of the trust, the desire not to fail or disappoint. The fear upon meeting new students where there is not yet a rapport... the searching for common ground.

My wife has had frightening dreams almost every night this week about her new 4th grade class, as she is only in her 4th year of teaching and is sensitive by nature. It is like the dreams students have of arriving at school naked and having everyone stare at you, except worse - there are many students but only one teacher in a classroom. The spotlight is on you, regardless. I have no bad dreams and am relaxed (and even expectant!) for next Monday and the new school year, but there are still the vestiges of nervousness and unease.

This set of "I Believe" essays are powerful and impressive, as they always are. They each bear the stamp of a unique individual, the style of their character as distinctive as their dress or taste in music, friend, food, art, or politics. "I believe..." High school students waxing eloquent on dancing like fools with their friends - or "alone, when nobody is watching." Believing in love and life and family and dreams. Nascent political beliefs and the power of music. The idea that true love exists and is waiting there somewhere in the future - "True Love, not phony, reluctant hand holding love / True Love, the kind that makes your stomach churn, make you crazy, passionate love / kissing the rain." There is the raw power of life, the fully 3 dimensional complex creatures that will be my students; the incredibly complex and volatile mix which is the 17-year old - the confused man-child which is a teenager, born into the adult work naked and standing unsurely like a fawn on wobbly legs. The fear. The idealism. The desire. The dreams. The emotion. The confusion.

"I believe in crying when I am stressed, sad, or angry / But I believe in holding in my tears for as long as so I can feel strong." What strange and lovely creatures we human beings are!

How blessed to be a teacher of writing to whom others will give a glimpse of the beating, raw heart of humanity. How frightening to be entrusted with their education, how arrogant the thought one would have anything to teach them!

How human is the activity of teaching, as ancient as humanity itself - the novice reaches out to the elder, the elder reaches back. The novice will soon be the master - five years is nothing, ten years is nothing, twenty years is nothing. My own high school junior year in 1984 is twenty-one years distant, and it seems like yesterday.

"I believe that first loves never die
And should never be forgotten...
I believe that although love hurts, it shouldn't...
That listening to the heartbeat of the person you love
is amazing."

I read these essays but can only read a few at one sitting. The reading of the words takes little time, the digesting of the ideas and emotions takes much. I sit there with the essay in hand thinking over the character of this person that will enter my class next week. I read the essay and then sit there looking out into the distance, thinking and reflecting. Through the words a human being begins to form, the shape of a soul becomes attached to a name -

"Daniel T." "Tristan D." "Catherine G." "Jonathan C."

After some time, I look down again and move to the next essay. I aim to read the entire stack of essays throughly two times by the end of the weekend. That should give me time necessary to process these essays as they should be processed.

It all starts next Monday morning.