Sunday, August 26, 2007


“Time is the school in which we learn,/ Time is the fire in which we burn.”
Delmore Schwartz

So here we are. Tomorrow, it all begins again, the real New Year. I will not be teaching tomorrow; that starts with the students’ arrival on Wednesday. Tomorrow begins the classroom preparation—new bulletin boards, reorganizing closets and cupboards, straightening the bookcases, familiarizing myself with the new equipment and technology added to my arsenal over the summer. I took a sneak peak a week ago—we have projectors hooked to our classroom computers now. We will be able to pull up web pages and programs and display them on an overhead screen in front of the classroom.

Tuesday, we have to attend a mind-numbing number of meetings: a general faculty meeting first thing in the morning; (Or as I like to call it after a summer spent going to bed between three and five o’clock AM, “the end of the day.” This is the time of year I feel the most backassward.) an English Department meeting before lunch; ( A meeting I am supposed to run; currently, I have one item on the agenda: a nap.) and finally, a video and workshop in the afternoon.

Then, we have Wednesday’s invasion.

The beginning of the year always comes at us too fast. This year was no exception. It seems like only yesterday we just finished up. Students will likely find it interesting to know that teachers feel the same way they do about the approach of the return to school. We dread it.

We also anticipate it.

Preparing the lessons, writing, or rewriting syllabi, reading or rereading the summer books—if you asked me, I would tell you I wish all of it would go away. Yet, I never feel completely in tune unless I am working on school stuff. I guess that is how you know you belong where you are: the work might be difficult, but you feel like you are humming along on all eight cylinders when you are doing it.

The daunting thing about being a teacher is that every year, the students stay the same age. Only we, the teachers get older. In the end, I think that will drive me out of the profession. Otherwise, I could be a teacher until I die. Each year, however, it gets harder and harder to keep up with the eternal fifteen year old. There are things about childhood that never change. As long as I can remember how it was for me, I can relate to how it is for them. The problems come in the area of culture.

I never wanted to be the kind of older person who puts down the teenagers’ music. Yet, I can only grit my teeth through most rap and hip-hop.

I cannot get used to the vapid emptiness of “reality television.” It’s not my reality. I can understand that kids are different today, and that these kinds of programs hold an appeal for some of them, but I cannot fathom people my age watching such crap. I have a few friends who know which year the Real World was in Boston, and who view The Simple Life as “must see TV.” Not me. What gives me hope, I am often pleased to discover, is my students aren’t interested either. They’re way too busy posting videos of their exploits on You Tube.

After this it gets scary. The level of violence on the street means my students don’t ride their bicycles to school anymore. Pedophiles and opportunists lurk around every school yard and playground. Kids do not have a lot of time to be children anymore. In addition to all the fearful things out there, we load them down with homework and we start talking about SAT scores and resumes and grade point averages beginning in the womb. We make them into heart attack victims by the time they are eighteen and they get their first rejection letter from college. So we seize the teachable moment: life is full of rejections. It is how you bounce back that determines the players in this world. Get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game. These days, it’s survival of the fittest.

So I am thinking of all of this tonight, as I plan my first lessons, revise my syllabus, look over my textbooks, and consider what this year might hold. When I look back on this night in June, 2008, it will seem, like always, to be a dusky memory. We start the year with certain things in mind, things that we think will be important. Then life takes over and tells us what the year will be about.

I am thinking about my state of mind on September 10th, 2001.

I am thinking about the spring I had congestive heart failure.

I am thinking about the year my mom died, or the year we inherited a house, or the year we had an earthquake that closed the school.

What will this year reveal to us? I guess that is the anticipation I feel tonight. I know we will read Catcher In The Rye once again, and 1984, The Stranger, “The Most Dangerous Game,” Emily Dickinson’s thoughts about death, Romeo and Juliet, and Einstein’s dreams of time. We will write and write and write. We will publish a school newspaper, a magazine, a yearbook. We will have faculty and department meetings, parent conferences, talks with failing students, talks with successful students. We will see, in the next ten months, tears, smiles, injuries, illnesses, emptiness, satisfaction, joy, sorrow, peace, war, love, hate, disappointment, death, and finally, summer again.

In the end, teaching is about the life of the mind, and the things that come attached to the mind: the human being and all the ups and downs he or she encounters while growing.

I love vacation. But I also love coming home to the classroom, one of the few places I have ever felt I belonged. Former teachers of mine, I hope, if you are still alive, that admission does not kill you. I may not have been the best student, but I am a committed teacher. Give me twenty-five students and some good literature and I know that the world still has a chance. The classroom is where, if you look hard enough, you can see the new day coming.

And that is all the hope I need.


  1. This, by far, is my favorite article yet. I too wonder about what this year holds for us. It's another year that will come and go, and reveal its secrets as it passes by.

  2. Hello Mr. Martin. I have to agree with Shaunt on this one. This is my favorite article here. I think the way you feel before the start of a new school year is the same way that all your students feel (obviously). Let’s see what this school year throws our way.


    P.S I love the pictures that you’ve taken. Especially the picture of the grammar book. It’s probably the least exiting picture but it’s just so cool. Have you put that up some place else?

    Bye Bye

  3. Mr. Martin,
    I am a high school senior in Massachusetts and I have recently found your blog, which I find fascinating. I have wanted to teach my entire life and have decided on being a high school English teacher. I find your stories and insight on the profession so interesting. I am also taking both AP English classes, so your ideas about those exams are interesting for me too. Your blog has provided me with some ideas about teaching that I would not have otherwise, so I just wanted to say a quick (or not so quick!) thank you for writing this blog.

  4. Hannah,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I applaud you for considering teaching as a career. Too many people I have encountered in 23 years in the classroom become teachers because they do not know what to do with their lives and they think teaching is an easy job where one finishes by 3:30 in the afternoon, gets all the major holidays off, and has generous vacations at Christmas and in summer. Often they have all the degrees and credentials, yet when they actually enter the classroom, they find they cannot do the job and wash out of the profession very quickly.

    Teaching is a rough, demanding, exhausting, and often frustrating vocation that can also be joyful, life-affirming, exciting, intellectually stimulating, and powerfully moving. The cliches are numerous, but most are true: we create the future by teaching children how to live morally, thoughtful, productive, and enriched lives. American education has faltered over the last fifteen years or so, but I have faith that with new teachers coming into the profession like yourself, who choose to take up the life of a role model and instructor for others, we can restore hope and intellectual vigor to the nation.

    Good luck with your studies and keep in touch. Teaching is a calling, a chance to light the fire. If you feel this calling now, go for it. It is a difficult, but hugely rewarding way to live your life.

    Take care,
    Paul L. Martin


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