#TBT – Reflecting on Classrooms Past

As Scott and I rode home last night from our date night in DC, we passed a gathering of caps and gowns. It’s that time of year when goodbyes are more frequent than hellos, and Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You Will Go! flies off bookshelves across America.

Though I teach middle school now, I am a high school teacher at heart and remember fondly the years I taught seniors in Hampton, Virginia. This #TBT is dedicated to my kids in Hampton, wherever they may be. Below is a piece I wrote at the end of my first year with the seniors.

I love you all, and remember – don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.



June 17, 2009

It’s empty. The chalk has settled. The boards are blank, save the messages of love that span across the front.

For the first time this year the blinds are open, the sun streams into the space illuminating not only the corners of the room but also the corners of my mind – revealing in this quiet place the memories that I cling to of times gone by.

5th Block. There is Latifah – fighting in the back room with Valice – a topic of religion, no doubt, while Shelby quietly tries to interject. On the other side of the room Tiffany dances, wedged in between Ashley, who was late this morning, and Tevin whose legs barely touch the floor. In the front Tonika looks like she is ready to face the arctic and Elly and Michelle wait quietly for the next activity. Brittany and Jeannie are on the futon in the back, writing poetry and drawing – of course. The middle of the room is a buzz of gossip, as Christian, Tamika, Ericka, and Nick share stories. Chantal, Dominique, and Brandi are three pretty maids all in a row. And just like every good nursery rhyme, this one too shall end.

6th Block. The bell rings, and Wilson is running from Ateasha, bag on shoulder. Tyree has his earphones in and Lamar is asleep in the back. Matthew is sharing a new military story, as Gabby furiously puts pen to paper to sketch the image that was just born in her mind. Chris is sitting straight in front, with a devious grin on his face, as Nick sits behind and jumps into every conversation in the room. Kierra busts into the room, panicked, having just come from a near fight with SOMEONE that crossed her path. Brittany calms her down, and we are ready to start. Not without Sterling rolling his eyes and making an excuse as to why we shouldn’t proceed…

There he is. Sitting in the blue chair – quiet, contemplative, absorbing but not interjecting. It is 7th block now, and Tron has assumed his regular position at the front of the room, while Andy, Rory and Darius stand at the door to socialize until the final bell rings. Sam and Justin are already settled in the back, Justin with a book, while Kyle has maneuvered himself in the brown chair, ready to spend the class faced the other way.
Erica cautiously sits down, as not to repeat her first day mishap. It seems that spot on the wall invites the quiet girls, as Joy, Diamond, and Ty’Nesha are lined up ready to go. In the back Dana’s laughter infects Kandace and Kentori. The middle of the room is a blur, and quiet themselves the moment I start to speak, leaned upon the black cart. “I’m yours” plays in the background.

A loud noise in the hallway – my memories have been interrupted.

My eyes scan the room, noting the projects my students have made, now left to sit alone all summer long in anticipation of new life in the fall. While most things go dormant in the winter, this particular place goes dormant in the summer. The futon is empty, and I see Cinnamon crying, Sam sleeping, Tron, Andy, and Darius working furiously on their Beowulf projects in their football uniforms.

And there they are. The tears that have been building and building for months in preparation to say goodbye have finally made it over the rim of my eye. Voices are in the hallway, and I stifle my silent tears to keep from being discovered.

In front of me, empty desks; but one stretch of my memory and I see everyone sitting in their proper place. The lamps are on, the fountain is running, “Good Morning my Darlings” scrawled hurriedly on the front board. I can hear them – I can hear the laughter and the conversations, the individual voices – every single one of them. What remains in my mind now are all the beautiful moments – the moments when we united as a family, no longer a class. The moments when we transcended the normal “school” experience and breathed in LIFE. And even though the building has long been empty and my colleagues have hurried from their vacant rooms to begin their three month vacation, I just can’t bear to pull myself from this spot – trying desperately to etch every one of those memories permanently in my mind. It’s almost 5 o’clock, and tomorrow – they graduate.

And it’s empty. The room that is, but my heart now aches even though it is full. I am scared that what happened in this place this year will never happen again. I will never be able to recreate what it was that was made – and oddly, I don’t think I want to. In many ways I wish this was my last year so that I could leave this building with only memories of them. Their life begins tomorrow, and this chapter ends.




More about Al


    1. And while you took those memories with you, Al, so did they, every one of those special students you mentioned. I have never met them, but I feel I know them because you still talk about them and they still talk about you and keep you in their heart. We all have “that” teacher we will never forget, who touched us and showed us the world and helped us prepare to take our place in that world. YOU, Al, you are that person to so many of the students you have left in your wake.

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