, Newburyport, MA


September 4, 2013

On the way to school


What was on the mind of a young girl walking to school, a young man skateboarding to the same destination? What dream? What burden? What pride? What shame? What inspiration? What despair?

One hoped that a special teacher awaited, one who would kindle the creative or defuse the despair. One teacher will not serve this role for all, but each teacher must serve it for some. Usually that happens, often in unusual and unexpected ways.

I thought back over my own school years and saw a rough and tumble football coach who would also be my English teacher and, years later, my first principal as I myself became a teacher.

I could visualize him — loud, demanding, demonstrative and inspiring — standing on the seven-man blocking sled, barking out orders. What he inspired was a touch of fear, a touch of pride, a touch of loyalty. Somehow, we wanted to please him.

I could still remember him in those English classes, leaning back in his chair, his hands clasped behind his head, pouring that same enthusiasm into the literature or the writing assignment at hand.

And I could still remember that as a principal he took a chance in hiring me as a non-certified, inexperienced teacher of science and physical education at a residential school for juvenile offenders in Dorchester. That path, as Robert Frost once wrote, made all the difference. I found my focus in life. The influence of this teacher lives on, though he is now gone.

When I think back over my own teaching career, when I wonder if I did enough, I see individual faces. Some, I suppose, I did not reach and teach, and I hope that there was someone else out there who did. Then I begin to think of those with whom I did connect.

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