Another school year is upon us, and, as I do each year, I recall a story that the Chair of the English Department told at the start of the year when I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He said that on the evening before Fall Semester classes were to begin, he came across a young man in the hallway who was looking into a classroom. The Chair, good fellow that he was, asked the young man if he could be of help. The young man, a freshman, said in a hushed voice, the sort of respectful voice we used to hear in public libraries, “Tomorrow, I’m going to have my English class in this room. I just wanted to see it.”
I can never tell this story without feeling humbled. Like many teachers, I love what I do, but, again, like many teachers, I sometimes grumble about the job. This story reminds me each year that I’m in the service of students like the young man who came into Andrews Hall to take a look at the room where he and his fellow-classmates and his instructor would engage with the written word. Granted, it’s sometimes easy to think that students like this one are the exceptions rather than the rule, but still, it makes me stop and think about what I owe those who occupy my classrooms. Someone is paying a good deal of money for each student’s education. I owe those students, their parents, spouses, the University, or whoever is putting up the cash, my very best.
What a gift I’ve been given, the opportunity to make my living doing the thing I most love. Each year at this time—I’m about to start my 33rd year of teaching—I think about a student in Nebraska, a young man I never met, someone whose name I never knew, and how he was eager, reverential, expectant. He was on the verge of his adult life. He’ll never know how much he’s meant to me over all the years that I’ve taught. Bless him and all the others who are about to walk into a classroom—students and teachers alike. Bless us for the sacred act of learning that is soon to begin.