The Old Schoolmaster

SanJuanTeacherStatue

You throw a pebble, a small boulder that you can barely pick up, or a grain of sand into a pool of water.  If there is no wind, you can watch the ripples move out in perfect concentric circles, ever-widening.  The tiny waves keep going until they reach an obstacle and they bounce off into another odd and unexpected angle.

You can never determine the ultimate destiny of the ripples just created by your action.  But, they’re out there somewhere, still displacing another water molecule.

If there is a wind blowing–a wind that changes and causes eddies in the once-calm water, then whatever you started with your pebble is now out of sync with the ripples you hoped for.

It’s a little like being a teacher.  You stand in front of a pool of calm minds and you toss out a pebble of an idea.  How it affects the waters of a child’s brain is out of your control.  Whatever becomes of your comment or question is up to the gods, or the parents, or an uncle or a bully or a future husband or wife of the child.  You can only hope for something humble–like making the child’s world (or future) better by even the smallest degree.

A metaphor: You (as an educator) are like the bed of a vast ocean.  The limitless water is the mind of child multiplied by ten billion.  At the same time, you are the tosser of the pebble, the sower of seeds, and the wind that changes every day in a young person’s life.

It’s a heady feeling…all this power over a mind.  They sit and pretend they don’t hear you, they draw goofy pictures of you as a fool.  They roll their eyes and pass notes.  They flirt with each other and wait for the bell to end the class.

But, they’re listening…maybe with half-an-ear, but they’re listening.

They pretend they don’t like you and that they fear you, but they also revere you.  Most often, they spend more time with you than with their parents.

It’s a heady feeling…all this power over a mind.  But it’s also scary as hell and unsettling as a ghost story.

In a small public park in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, hidden by many buildings, is a statue of a teacher.  I don’t read Spanish, so I couldn’t tell if it was to honor a certain person or educators in general.

I saw this statue and saw myself.  Not that I deserve a monument–God forbid!  But, on the figures shoulders and arms were children.  He/she was the foundation of those lives.

But, I’ve held thousands of young people on my shoulders in 33 years of living in a cloud of chalk-dust.

I don’t want a statue.  I just want to know that a pebble I tossed in 1973, is still causing a small waves in someone’s life.  I didn’t want to change the world, but only wanted a young mind to think again about something and begin to ask their own questions.

I wonder.  Is there one 57 year-old man or woman, someone I taught at a 15-year-old at the start of my career, sitting somewhere and remembering me and my pebbles?

 

 

 

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