At my alma mater, Pennsylvania State University, the head coach of the football team is 84-year-old Joe Paterno. This is well known to anyone who knows anything about college sports. Joe Pa, as he is affectionately known, was the assistant coach for 15 years before taking over the head coaching position that he has held for 46 years. Remember the movie “Gung Ho” with Michael Keaton, where he works for an American Car company that is bought out by a Japanese car company? The Japanese display this amazing work ethic and dedication and stay with the same company for their whole working life. Does this type of longevity with occur even in Japan anymore? Joe Pa seems to be of that same mind – work hard and be loyal — and Penn State has been rewarded with a competitive team, year after year.
This week marks the start of my 9th year at the same high school. While in some ways it is hard for me to believe it has been that long, the grey sideburns are a clear reminder. My original plan was to stay for four years and then move on to another school. Well, for many reasons – mostly because it wasn’t meant to be – those plans went awry and I find myself at the same locale. This longevity has allowed me to see many people come and go. The assistant principal of English who encouraged me to come to the school, Mr. Becker*, has been a principal at another school for over three years now. Mr. Gordon, who I went through the teaching fellows program with, left the school after three years with the thought of pursuing his doctorate. I am working under my third principal and am now third in line in my department in terms of longevity.
While it is sometimes hard to say goodbye to my coworkers, it is the students who are actually my colleagues. A certain bond develops from working with a student on a daily basis over a semester (and sometimes multiple semesters). There are some students who are especially difficult; I am happy to send them packing and hopefully to greener pastures. Charlene was a different student nearly every day, but each was loud, volatile, and disruptive. However, there are some students who are a pleasure to spend time with, to watch them grow, to see them mature. As a freshman, Jorge thought the funniest thing in the world was a fart; by his senior year, he walked the halls with a briefcase. Michelle was a class leader, an excellent writer, and an emotional basket case who let every emotion hang out. Richard was perpetually writing and, in fact, was in the middle of his 6th book in a series which he imagined being 10 strong.
So, while I walk down the halls in this 9th year, I see the classes of 2012, 13, 14, and 15, but I also see beyond and remember the classes that came before them. I remember their faces and their stories even if I don’t always remember their names. I wonder where they are, what they are doing, and what kind of life they are making for themselves? Are they productive, proud, and fulfilled?
Hundreds of students have walked through the doors of Bernstein’s room. They may have left happily or grumbling. I just hope that the time we spent together impacted them in a positive way.
*All names have been changed.