Missing School

“Do you miss school?” people ask. No, I reply, but I miss the kids. And, I do. The kids were fun, usually, and I loved working with teens. I also loved the atmosphere of high school—bubbly kids, sullen kids, confused kids, nice and pleasant kids, plus the drama and intrigue, the enthusiasms, the daily emotional fluctuations from high to low and back again, the excitement of encountering new ideas: of making projects [essays and research papers for English class] and reading new books, the pressure and intensity, the cliques and the loners, the kids like Justin who walked into my classroom and said, “Hi, I’m Justin and I’m gay!”, the kids who muttered their answers, the kids who talked and talked, the quiet kids who wrote profound essays, the loud kids who wanted to out-shout everyone, the kids who told me their secrets, the kids who wrote about their dreams, the kids who took on leadership roles, the kids whose faces lit up when I read poetry. Oh….I miss the kids and the fun of being in school. I miss my teacher friends and staff friends, too.

Of course, there are lots of things I do not miss: grading papers, data-processing grades, conferences with irked parents, among others. I figure I graded a lot of papers: thousands of research papers and essays, and tens of thousands of student journals, which I called “Logs,” one or two page typed journals on a variety of topics in a type of writing called “free writing.” Free Writing is a type of unstructured writing, a technique used to help students let their thoughts flow without stopping to correct construction errors; it is not quite stream-of-consciousness, but in the vicinity. Today, that kind of free writing, in corrected form, is called “blogging” and what I called “Logs” are now called “Blogs.” In the early years of my teaching career I read and corrected tens of thousands of vocabulary sentences—probably a lesson in futility, but I persisted. Then, too, twenty thousand and more daily homework papers crossed my desk each year; I was a paper-a-day teacher, meaning that students had to complete some task and turn in the paperwork, daily or every other day. Daily tasks included vocabulary sentences, vocabulary definitions, punctuation and grammar exercises, paragraph responses to literature, notes from literature, questions and answers from literature. I was firm about students writing in response to a lesson and I checked to see what they had learned. Miffed students sometimes sniffed: busy work. But, the research on the importance of taking notes and of responding in writing to concepts in the lesson was on my side. The learning comes in making the written response…i.e., thinking on paper.

One of the “lessons” I took from my teaching career, that I use daily, involves transferring notes from one source into my brain and then from my brain into my computer. I mean, in my genealogy research, I transcribe notes from various sources by typing them into my computer program. If I just cut-and-paste, I don’t “learn” the content; I have merely mastered cut-and-paste. Far too many of my students did not grasp this concept: that the hands, the eyes, the ears, the voice [i.e. the senses] must be involved in learning. To quote Dr. Walter Palk, “The more senses involved in learning, the stronger the neural trace.”

Thirty minute lunches, rushing to the restroom during passing period, pushing-pushing-pushing to get through the day and get all the tasks done, hall duty, sitting though stupid convocations, sitting though stupid committee meetings and boring in-service meetings, arguing with students about assignments—-lots of things to not miss.

What do I miss:

* the fun of working with teens
* the challenge of developing lessons that helped students learn specific concepts
* the dialogue and interaction with students

I miss the intellectual aspects of teaching Senior English. I miss teaching the vocabulary lists, teaching sentence structure, teaching writing techniques, teaching research skills, teaching all the aspects of expository composition. But, most of all, I miss working daily with the greatest literature written in my language. I miss reading Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and all of the other English poets. I miss reading poetry aloud, day after day. I miss the images, the metaphors, the alliteration and assonance, the grandeur of British poetry. I miss reading about the grim world of Beowulf and its warriors. I miss the panoply of The Canterbury Tales, the humor and wit, the spectrum of English life reflected so humorously in the characters. I miss the glories of Shakespeare, “Can I Compare Thee to a Summer Day?” I miss Hamlet, so depressed, uncertain, lost, confused, fencing metaphorically against his murderous uncle. I miss Milton. I miss Blake, “Little Lamb Who Made Thee?” I miss reading Pride and Prejudice, Cry, the Beloved Country, Jane Eyre. I even miss reading student responses and analysis of this great literature.

While it is more politically correct, and true, to say that I miss the students, what I miss most vividly is the poetry and my daily immersion in the glories of the English language.

Mother’s Day 2007

Mothers’ Day, 2007
Salem Presbyterian Church

My mother, Carol Jeanne Parsons Shafer, was a member of this congregation from 1960-1968. While she was here, she was a wife, a mother of three including two teens, a homemaker, a “minister’s wife,” an occasional organist, the director of the Children’s Choir, a university student working on her teaching certification and later her master’s degree, and an elementary teacher, among other duties. The word “multi-tasker” describes her life; she was busy. She was an equal partner with my father in all of her duties. When I read the following scripture, I think of my mother and the devoted care she gave to her family, her church, and her students.

Just as we know from the Parable of the Good Samaritan that everyone we encounter is our neighbor, we also know that we are all mothers and fathers to each other, husbands and wives to those we love and to the institutions we serve. I invite you to listen to this ancient scripture— those who are mothers, those who mother others, and those who have been mothered—and to think of how these ancient words describe a woman who is the CEO of her home and family, the administrator and manager of her life and the lives of her extended family—- a woman, single, married, divorced, or widowed—any woman who uses her skills to be the creative source within her home and her world, watching over, nourishing, protecting, caring, and mothering those who come within her realm.

Proverbs 31: Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Proverbs 31:10-31

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still dark; and provides food
for her family and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable; and her lamp does not go out at night. 
In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 
When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 
She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom and dignity, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 
Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
“This is the Word of the Lord”

The Proverbs 31 woman is charitable, entrepreneurial, fashionable, financially astute, healthy, industrious, loving, managerial, productive, prudent, resourceful, responsible, reverent, self-confident, skilled, trustworthy, virtuous, wise, praiseworthy as a wife and mother. She represents the essence of womanliness and is the mother to us all.