At Home With Vivian: School’s Out

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s
Dirty looks!

It’s count down time! Just a few more hours until Martinez school hallways will be filled with shouts of glee to be free! Joy and glad tidings will ring from every classroom, office, bus, and cafeteria. Summer vacation is within view. So close. Oh, so close! One last week to push through until smiles spread infectiously across every face. The students will probably be happy too.

As an elementary school student, it never occurred to me that teachers did anything outside of school. In fact, it was a shock when a teacher was seen in a public place, like the grocery store or post office. It was as though teachers were just part of the classroom décor and didn’t exist from the last day of classes until school resumed in the fall. Teachers were not real people to me.

My first inkling that this was a false belief came at the end of second grade. My older sister Brenda and her Navy husband lived in Hawaii and invited me to spend the summer with them. I was so excited! And I was a little showoff. I bragged to everyone that I was going to exotic Hawaii! On the last day of school at Ambrose Elementary School in West Pittsburg my teacher asked me to stay behind after the other children had joyfully left the classroom. Beaming, Mrs. Boyd handed me a wrapped package with a pretty bow on it. Seven year old me opened the package with a little awkwardness because I had never received a gift from a teacher before and I didn’t know why she was giving me one now. Inside the pretty paper was a small red covered book with blank pages inside. She told me it was called a journal and that I was to write in it every night while I was in Hawaii. I could write whatever I wanted. It was for fun, not homework.

I thanked her and told her I would show it to her in the fall. But I never did. You see, that night my sister called. The Navy had changed her husband’s orders and they had to leave Hawaii. There wouldn’t be enough time for me to come out after all. I was devastated and embarrassed about all of my boasting. Mama said it was good manners that I return my “going away” gift to Mrs. Boyd.

“I can’t!” I wailed. “The school is closed!” But my mother sent me up to the school anyway. To my surprise, I discovered that teachers are there even when the students aren’t. I found my teacher stacking books neatly on a shelf. The pictures on the walls were gone. The room was clean and neat. Mrs. Boyd listened to my sad story with a sympathetic smile. I handed the journal out to her, but she wouldn’t take it. “I’m sorry this trip didn’t work out, but you will go on many trips in your lifetime.” She was right.

A high school English teacher friend posted a picture on Facebook last week that had me rolling my eyes in recognition. Her photograph was of a comfy chair next to a table with a good reading lamp on it. Piles of colorful books were stacked under the table and piled on top. Her caption read “One of my favorite summer spots. And the stack of reading material that won’t include 9th grade essays.” Knowing her, I’ll bet at least a few of those books were chosen to enhance her lesson plans for next fall. Teachers are always teachers, even when they are not in the classroom.

Sitting in a brightly lit classroom, no more than 50 miles from where I was born, I learned about the world. I blew a tin whistle from Williamsburg that came from my third grade teacher’s East Coast vacation. I felt lava samples from Mt. Etna in Italy during a middle school science class. I admired wooden masks brought from Africa by an art teacher. And I tasted crystal rock candy from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk from Mrs. Boyd. I never appreciated the work and love that went into making those learning experiences possible until I became a teacher myself.

“What are you doing!?” my husband whispered to me at the dinner table on our first ocean cruise. I was taking pictures of our meals, of course. The food was so artfully arranged that I just knew my Culinary Arts students would be inspired. Thank goodness for digital cameras. Over the years, my interior design classes have enjoyed the pictures I took of a Victorian Mansion in Seattle, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin home, a Revolutionary War era cabin in Massachusetts, and Lincoln’s Springfield home in Illinois. My costume and fashion design students have watched DVDs made from photographs taken of uniquely dressed people on the streets of New York, Venice, Paris, and Tokyo. True teachers love learning and love sharing what they’ve learned even more. It’s a condition that never goes away, not even in retirement.

The retired teacher I replaced in the home economics classroom stopped by one day after school. She had just returned from a pleasure trip to the East Coast. As she regaled me with her adventures, she handed me brochures from this place and that. She passed me copies of regional recipes and then with a gleam of triumph in her eye, she whipped out a video about the making of maple syrup. “The students will love this tape!” she exclaimed. Several years after leaving the classroom, she was still learning and sharing her knowledge. Maple syrup. It was a great video.

The desire to teach is a hard habit to break. When teachers spend hours a day and months on end with youngsters, they learn to love their students and want nothing but the best in life for each of them.

The Martinez Unified School District’s “State of the District Address” from February 12, 2013 begins with “Our democracy depends on strong public schools that produce successful lifelong learners” and finishes with “Our students deserve no less.” Exactly.

We’ll soon be saying good bye to the graduating classes from Alhambra High School, Briones School, Vicente Martinez High School, College Park and Martinez Adult Education. Congratulations to all. May they all be lifelong learners. And may those who find they love to share their knowledge with others consider becoming teachers. It’s a pretty awesome career choice.

No more pencils and no more books. With summer vacation just around the corner, young students across the nation will be cleaning out their desks in anticipation of long lazy days.

No more teachers’ dirty looks? Of course not. The teachers will be gone too. But if you look closely you will find them. They will be in book stores, museums, art galleries, and libraries. They will be traveling around the world and taking classes. And wherever they are, they will surely be collecting fun facts for next year. Teachers are always teachers, even when they are not in the classroom.

Thank you, teachers! Congratulations Class of 2018!!!

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