Friday, April 20, 2012

Endings and beginnings

Spring is the season that reminds us that each new beginning is the ending of something else.

When I'm walking to campus across the High Street bridge, seeing the trees on the banks of Decker's Creek leafing out and catching a glimpse of a moutainside painted in shades ranging from the palest green to russet, Robert Frost's lines "Nature's first green is gold/ Her hardest hue to hold" often run through my mind.  In April, every day brings the emergence of some new wonder even as yesterday's fades.

Can you tell I'm feeling sentimental lately?

I spent this afternoon at the annual conference the College of Education holds where the graduating class from the 5-year teacher education program presents on their classroom research projects.

I facilitated a couple of sessions for the English education soon-to-be grads, and realized while I was sitting there that this is really the first class of students that I've seen through their entire program, since I'm finishing my fifth year.

The students in the photo, Brent and Carrie, were both students in one of the best sections of the young-adult lit class I've taught thus far.  It was one of those classes full of amazing students who collectively create something even greater than the sum of their individual parts.

We initially bonded over our mutual disdain for Sharon Draper's Tears of a Tiger, a book I didn't really care for but had included because it's required reading at both of the high schools in town.  It was one of the first novels we read, and after about half an hour of discussing it, someone finally asked, in a tentative voice, "Why did you choose this book?"  Suddenly we all heaved a mutual sigh of relief, realizing that we all felt the same way about it.  From then on, there was no holding back.

That was in fall 2009, the semester my father died.  In fact, the only things I remember about that fall are Dad's illness, and specific moments from the young-adult lit class.  I missed a week of school right after Thanksgiving for the memorial service, and I was anxious about going back to work afterward.  But every one of the students in that class sent me an e-mail while I was gone to offer their condolences and to express their sympathy, and when I went back, I almost cried, I felt so much like I was back home.

(And then Emma played guitar and sang a very funny song she'd written about Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak [believe it or not], and I laughed until I almost cried again.)

A couple of the folks in that class have graduated already, but most of them will be graduating in May.  Brent, on the left, has been in at least three of my classes, starting in the fall of 2008.  Writing a letter of recommendation for him recently, I thought about how lucky I am to be able to be a part of some students' lives for these particular years.  A music-teacher friend of mine once remarked that middle-school students were her favorite to work with, because they were just starting to figure out who they are.  I love working with college students for the same reason--and because they're so full of potentials and possibilities for the future.

I never thought I'd be the kind of person to say this, but what the hell: it's true.  Not having any children of my own, some of these students truly come to feel like my kids.  The love and pride I feel for them is overwhelming at times.  And many of the WVU students I've grown to feel that way about were in that fall 2009 class:  Brent and Carrie, but also Emma and Jake and Paige and get the idea.

It's been a long, hard semester, and I'm not going to be remotely sorry to see it in my rearview mirror.  And I won't be sorry to see these students graduate and take their gifts into the world.  But I will be sorry not to see them around.

(As long you're reading such schmaltz, you might as well listen to some, too, right?)


Carrie Alt said...

awwwww, Rosemary this made me tear up! You are amazing.

Brent said...

Thank you so much for all the wonderful sentiments and for all you have done for us! Since first meeting you, you have always been one of the people I've admired professionally but also personally, and I have always felt comfortable divulging my personal issues and seeking advice for you. You've inspired me in so many ways and I think we have all appreciated your frankness and honesty when it came to classes and education-related issues. I could go on and on but you get the point: YOU RULE! And when I am somehow rich and famous I will buy you the Hemingway House (six-toed cats included) for your retirement abode :)

(PS - If we are your children, does that make us Rosemary's Babies...eek)

Rosemary said...

You guys are the amazing ones. But Brent, I'll let you buy me the Hemingway House if you insist. However, you are Rosemary's *adults*, not babies. That's the real upside of only faux-adopting college students: someone else has done all the hard work of raising them! (And clearly, your parents all did a great job.)

Christy said...

What a beautiful paean to teaching. This is what it's supposed to feel like!

(I was very moved by your exchange with Brent on this post. Looks like a lifelong friendship in the making).

And I agree with him, Rose: YOU RULE!

Ms. Byrne said...

Oh, Rosemary! What a nice nostalgic post. That class was the best! I was just realizing that you taught me a lot about how to direct and mold a class conversation in that course. Thanks for that. And for, you know, all the mentoring and friendship. :)

Also, I got a few requests for that song after its unveiling, but I require wine to remember it. Did you know I wrote that after playing guitar for like 2 months? I've never gotten better...

Jane Kokernak said...

After I started teaching (late, at around age 38) and would tell my non-teaching friends about my students and my thoughts about them, my friends (all age peers) were so surprised! They had no idea that teachers actually thought about them, had feelings about them, told stories about them, etc.

They loom large in our inner lives, don't they? You certainly convey that here. Great post.