I almost gave up on May during her continual string of freeze warnings. In the nick of time, however, the May flowers predicted in the annual April showers forecast burst forth: proud and stately irises, seductively fragrant lilacs, and peonies in their sundry hues of pink and white finally arrived.
On Facebook, my cousin captioned glorious photos of glorious peonies with this piece of family legend I had never heard: “The peonies have bloomed in time to mark Grandma Scott’s birthday this weekend.” Our dearly devout grandmother was born on May 23, 1901. When she and Grandpa moved from Mingo to a house just up River Road from us, I remember Memorial Day get-togethers with peonies in full bloom along their front porch.
Coincidental with the celebration of Pentecost Sunday last weekend, I then had the fortunate opportunity to share with that cousin, a retired Lutheran minister, the German name for peonies: “Pfingstrosen” translated as “Pentecostal roses.” For so many years I left the peonies of Ohio to be welcomed by their counterparts in Germany, always a double treat.
Speaking of special May days: my brother-in-law’s birthday last Friday coincided with a one-time calendar occurrence: May 21 was the 21st day of the 21st week of the 21st year of the 21st century. Wow! What a celebration for those turning 21 that day!
Other FB photos are transitioning from prom finery to commencement caps and gowns. There have been scads of pictures showing young baseball players related to my FB friends. I myself have been watching American gymnasts and track-and-fielders preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, even as former GHS standout wrestler David Taylor similarly trains for his appearance on the international athletic stage this summer.
The spring musical photos I recently enjoyed are already being replaced by pictures exuding the pure, unadulterated cuteness of dance recitals. Our shoestring-budget never permitted dance lessons, but some of our great-nieces are continuing the traditions of our nieces in developing the rhythmic talents they will soon display. Fortunately, FB videos will beam their accomplishments right into my living room: the costumes, the ribbons, the music, the flowers, the little-girl joy. I can’t wait!
It comes as no surprise, however, that most of my May memories and musings are based on one fact: this old schoolmarm left the classroom over a decade ago – but the classroom still dwells in her heart.
So, when the teacher-daughter of a teacher-friend posted this timely observation, I wholeheartedly concurred: “Each month has 28-31 days, except the last month of school, which has 1673 days.” Truer words were never spoken!
Never in any of my education courses was the last month of school ever explained, examined, or even mentioned. Nowadays, just as long ago, every behavioral objective, benchmark, and instructional expectation remains required as the finite deadline approaches, while an entirely separate list takes simultaneous effect. Culminating projects, final exams, supply orders, room cleaning, unpaid fee reports: the to-do list grows exponentially.
Meanwhile, the mathematical concept of inverse proportion has always loomed over the classroom and its occupants from spring break on – the more there is to accomplish, the less effort students seem able to muster. Concepts and skills mastered early in the year disappear from student brains, requiring remedial review. All the while, however, every student is razor-sharp about the exact number of remaining school days before slipping back into a distant, summer-occupied facial expression. And, yes, many a teacher in the throes of a beautiful late May also fits this description…
My last month of school for 25+ years was also crowded with final trip prep: visits to the homes of my soon-to-be fellow travelers; frequent stops at the AAA office, where more than once I fell asleep waiting for my turn at the agent’s desk; grading exams and calculating final grades with one hand while packing my suitcase with the other.
And yet, during my very first last month of school in 1971, I discovered an unexpected phenomenon that continued to occur for the next four decades. On the teacher workday, I realized the automatic bell system had not yet been disconnected. When the tone sounded for the beginning of second period, no students appeared. No giggling friends rushed in; no apologetic almost-tardies dragged themselves to my door; there was absolutely no scuffling or shuffling of any variety. My room stood silently empty. My students did not come that day – or ever again. Tears fell onto my book inventory sheets.
When a former-student-now-teacher last week posted reference to this fact of teaching life, I remembered all those teacher workdays – especially the last one as I headed into retirement: “You make a little family – and then you say goodbye.”
Time together in the classroom was always very intimate. Regardless of the class personality – and each individual class had a distinctive one – we were a group that spent basically half the year together in pursuit of learning and teaching. When that time ended, it could never be reconstructed. The groups would never meet again in that exact configuration at that time of day. And I always missed them…
The other day, I ran across this most apt description: “pencils ~ tiny; erasers ~ flat; crayons ~ broken; classroom ~ empty; year ~ complete.” I would add: “heart ~ filled with memories of the kids who inspired me to do my best in the short time we spent together.”
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.