Thursday, March 13, 2008

Waiting



There is a town in Norway, up near the North Pole, the northernmost town in the world, and its citizens are waiting for the sun to rise for the first time since October.

My seniors are anxiously waiting for the first letters from their colleges. What does the future hold? Where will I be in the fall? What is to come?

I am already thinking about next year. What things will I do differently? What works of literature will I teach? What methods will I change? Which methods will I keep? Will the problems of this year be solved for the fall? Will anything ever change, or will we simply keep marching toward mediocrity?

In the pause between winter and spring, we are all waiting. The nights are getting shorter; the sun sets later. Daylight savings time returned last weekend. Outside, it is windy and balmy, a night for walking the streets, listening to music and television programs from the houses on the block. Everyone is restless. Waiting.

Up in Longyearbyen, Norway, a town recently profiled in The New York Times ( March 3, 2008), 2000 inhabitants wait for March 8. That is the day “the sun will rise again in Longyearbyen.” It is, for all purposes, the first day of spring, not because of the date, but because of the rising sun. The first day of spring does not arrive until March 21.

“Longyearbyen, originally a coal mining town named for the American who founded it a century ago, is in total darkness from mid-November through January. During the first part of November and in February, when the sun is well below the horizon, daytime is only indirect light, a brief period of bluish twilight.”

It is in the period of waiting for something anticipated that we all stand in the twilight.

In the town of winter darkness, when the light returns, “people will be driving their cars and scooters in light rather than darkness. They can see their kids when they run on ahead. They can hike up the glacier.

“The return of the sun also means the return of warmth to this frigid land, although that concept is relative. Summer temperatures average only 43 degrees. The record high is 64.” Such is summer in Longyearbyen, Norway.

I can feel summer. I remember it in my genes. I can smell the heat, the cracking asphalt, the days of reading and studying and preparing to teach another year. Right now, as we trudge through our days in the soggy spring, we all dream of summer. My seniors are dreaming ahead even further, into the realm of the future.

I can also feel some disappointment coming. Many of my students will not get into the college of their choice. They will have to settle for something else—a nearby four year university, a junior or community college. They will soon realize that the hard work never ends. As soon as this acceptance or refusal comes, they will have to get back to the hard work of living day to day. There are tests coming, final exams, AP exams, life exams. The test never ends. And next fall, when they arrive on a new campus, they will start over again. They are the freshman class, once again. The climb to success, to the next plateau, begins again in earnest. The repeated word: again and again and again.

I plan. I anticipate. What does the next group of students need work on to compete on the AP exam? What skills will I stress more next year? Next year, next year it will be different. It always is, and then it isn’t.

I wish the principal would stop playing politics and make decisions based on solid pedagogy. What is best for the students and their education? How refreshing that would be! I wish the parents would stop excusing the behavior of their children. Students who quit working in the spring, who turn in blank tests, who fall in love with the wrong people, or break school rules, are not the teachers’ fault. It is spring. They are young. They have yet to realize the test never ends. We keep teaching, through the bored looks, the minds that go elsewhere.

All I know is that I have the most important job in the world. To teach someone to think for himself is to arm a person to face the never-ending test. Life is so hard. We should be lucky to be armed against the bumps and bruises and storms of life. If it only could be summer always, but that is not real. That is not the way it is.

Take heart, seniors. Soon the light will come. All will be revealed. When the success happens, we will all celebrate together. When the crushing disappointment falls on us, we, your teachers, will be there to console you.

This is the cycle of our lives: fall into winter into spring into summer. Around and around we go.

Like the citizens of Longyearbyen, we hope and pray that soon the light will come, that tomorrow, the sun may rise.