The last month or so has been difficult. Death is such a final visit. You think about the things you wanted to say, the things you wanted to do. But there is something more at work than regret. There is hope. As a teacher, I see students come in and out of my classroom with a plethora of challenges, some academic, some not.
Comportment becomes the issue. How do I show love and admiration without oversaying it? How do I maintain appropriate distance without relying on it? How do I tell them that I know the road is not easy without falsely attempting to make it so? It has always been a conundrum for me.
My tenth grade students are learning about Emmett Till. This upcoming week, they will be asked to evaluate the meaning of his horrific death. For several weeks, we have read articles and watched film about his case and circumstance. Now, the hard question must be faced. Was his death a necessary catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, or just a tragic loss? Can children be rightly called upon to lead progress, or is change solely an adult burden to bear?
I am always concerned when I introduce this topic. Part of it seems unfair. When I was the age of my students, fifteen or sixteen years old, the nation remained engrossed in the issues of race and its legacy. In many ways, it still is. No president except our present one has been made to carry the weight of so many transgressions, so many assumptions, so many years of “benign neglect.” I remember discomfort at times. All I wanted then was to stoke my youth for as long as I could and stay far away from the winters of our nation’s discontent.
The great thing about growing older is the wisdom it brings. I have learned how to maintain optimism in spite of the things we see and read. I know America has advanced as a nation, as a cause–even when some attempt to deny and to retrace brittle steps.
I will try to teach my students how to use yesterday to fortify tomorrow. They are the future imagined; they will become the future achieved.
I want to be the best guide on the journey. Sometimes I fail; sometimes I succeed. There is still so much work to be done, and courses to be traveled, and corrections to be made. I think now more than ever that prayer and rigor are the only ointments for weary limbs, and belief is the talisman we seek.
Next week, my students will write about what they think and imagine. My job is to teach structure, correct errors, and encourage attempt. I remember high school and how fragile and determined I was. Antithesis is the burden and the road.
I pray for guidance and wisdom. I pray for them, and me, and us.
Mark E.P. Roberts (teachermandc)