Jeaninne is an award-winning fiction and essay writer who is the author of "Manuel's Murals."
One Teacher's Continuous Legacy
I parked a block from the campus, knowing how carpool traffic blocks major roads when school ends each day. I remember the cacophonous sounds of middle schoolers when they are freed from the restraints of their mid-century, high ceiling classrooms. Discolored, plastic black-out curtains shield the jittery students from the temptations of jumping out of large, louvered windows. Perspiring, frazzled teachers demand just a few more minutes of rapt attention to last minute reminders when the beginning of a new school year in California still simmers in the final sweltering days of summer.
I used to stand on duty in front of this school at 3:00 p.m. to make sure that the unbridled energy of pre-adolescent powder kegs rocketed safely across the street. We educators held our breath until that pent-up energy exploded at least one block away from traffic. If we didn’t see the punching, grabbing, kicking and throwing in our line of vision, then our duty was done for the day.
Today, my heart is racing. I am meeting one of my new teachers in the California State Teacher Induction Program for which I am a coach. I taught at this middle school from 1985 to 1994. I am a veteran teacher who retired in 2014 after 36 years of service. I have been coaching new teachers since 2016. I never tire of those first day teacher nerves when meeting our students for the first time gives us the rush we need to stand before them.
As soon as I reach the crosswalk, with a full view of the school, it all comes back -- the children, my colleagues, my golden retriever comforting my special education students, the laughter, the tears; but mostly, the human connections. I want to stand still for a moment and breathe it all in. I don’t want to forget any of it.
Immediately, the moment is shattered. A few steps in and I see it. Nothing but dirt and broken concrete. The courtyard is gone. The art building is gone. The old library is gone. Inevitable progress is forging ahead in the form of bulldozers and orange-vested construction workers. A state-of-the-art gymnasium and two-story classrooms will soon replace the last vestiges of my 30-year-old memories. And, like me, those relics from the past will be replaced with shinier, new objects.
I inhale this bittersweet reality and exhale my disappointment as I walk into the office. I am greeted by a former student of this school, now a secretary, who was in attendance when I taught here. She didn’t know me because I taught special education in the dark hall, but we share similar remembrances of the tree-lined courtyard and a few of my more memorable colleagues. There is some comfort in that.
The secretary calls my new teacher and sends me out to her classroom, a classroom that once housed the shop class. The teacher of that class, many years ago, used to take my unruly students for a class period to give me a break. I look around for any kernel of proof that he also existed. Nothing. Only new cabinets and fresh paint. It pleases me that the louvered windows and heavy plastic curtains still stand as bastions to another era.
While my mind is clicking off visual memories like an amped up Power Point presentation, a gorgeous creature, about 5 feet 8 inches with natural blonde hair and a dazzling smile, reaches her hand out to me. As soon as I grab on, a slight electrical shock brings me back to the present. Her brilliance blinds me.
After hurried introductions, she says, “I am so excited you are going to be my coach. I can tell we are going to have a great partnership. I know I will benefit from your history and experience in this district.”
I look back into her large welcoming eyes and say, “Yes. It’s going to be an amazing journey.”