On Time

Time, the brunt of many metaphors.

Time is money. Time is a father or a ghoul. Time flies and crawls, always when you’d rather he doesn’t.

School began today at Black Forest Academy, with the same flag-bearing pageantry that’s brought tears to my eyes for each of the last four years. This time, my fifth, was perhaps the most poignant of all. I know more now than I ever have, so each carried flag waves a story at me, not only of its hold but of siblings, homes, nations, histories and futures that they’ve written into English papers or murmured into conversation. I think about time as I watch them, how the years spent in this place have embedded these stories and people in my heart. Time does that, but so does attention.

The hours, still far from empty, are different, as my assignment at BFA has changed this year.  Gone are the regimented days filled with classes and students, governed by the imperious tri-tone of school bells. I have only two Honors American Literature classes this year, 100 minutes a day with the vocation I understand best. In addition to that, I’m coordinating mentoring and training for our new teachers, and assisting Timmy with Student Council advising. Both roles require more flexible scheduling, hence the lighter teaching load this year.

A new year means a new office, with a freshly-decorated bulletin board and a view of the river. I’ve never spent much time here. With five sections of junior English, I’d run in and out  to take phone calls or print assignments, but mostly I lived in my classroom, either vibrant with students or calmly empty. Now I’m surrounded by busy colleagues, teaching math and music and English, immersed in conversation and questions, with ringing phones to answer and lost students to assist. “You’re here!” exclaimed a fellow English teacher, finding me working at my corner desk. “You’re never here! This is fun!”

Reading through Harry Wong’s First Days of School today, I encountered his warning against teacher isolation. He admonishes new teachers to ask for help, and veterans to welcome collaboration. It was fitting to read it today, as I try to understand–and sometimes remember–what it means to support new teachers. What did I want when I was just starting out? How could someone have helped me? Who did help?

And I remember that it was people who had time. They were unpressured people, whether colleagues or supervisors, who would set aside their own busyness to step into the chaos of my beginning-teacher world and walk beside me, with a listening ear and judicious advice. I remember one who would make copies for me, and another who went to Staples to buy the school supplies that I needed in my new classroom (that year a conference room in the Library). They didn’t take the reins or shower me with handouts. They were just there.

These hours in the humming staffroom are the unexpected gift of this year. A change in teaching schedule and the graduation of my small group along with the Class of 2014 have left me with plenty of time, unscheduled and available. Suddenly I find myself able–as I’ve seldom been for the last three years–to listen and to help, to learn what it means to be truly hospitable in the workplace. It won’t be structured or predictable, not the cyclical creativity of lesson planning and grading. But I’ll be able to listen, to figure out how the laminator works, to sit by the river and hear about a day. And for that, unfamiliar as it is to my classroom-dwelling soul, I’m grateful.


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