My hand rested on the switch as I hesitated to turn the lights off in the empty classroom. It was a warm June day outside, but my mind traveled back to a hot August day over 30 years ago. As my eyes surveyed the empty desks, I smiled as memories began to rush into my mind.
Turning on the lights and chasing away the darkness in my first classroom gave me no clue what I was in for as a teacher. Neither did I foresee how quickly the years would pass. The rows of empty seats would soon be filled with 36 precious young people God would use to teach me how to teach. And what a wonderful job they would do for Him.
Each child was a unique human being. There was Della, a princess; Arthur, who could have been any farmer’s son; Billy, handsome yet sad-faced; Ty, a “babe magnet” if ever one existed; and brilliant Warren. Kathy was as close as ever I came to having a “teacher’s pet.” She was a sweet, little doll. Later that first year, I would be blessed to help her grandmother start a church in the neighborhood. Those kids were joined by 30 other individuals with a wide range of abilities and personalities.
As I look at photos of this group even today, I still remember all of them.
Behind my desk, I had hung a large plaque with the words from Philippians 4:8, “As a Man Thinketh” and it remained in each of my classrooms over the years. The words to that verse would guide the basis of all I did as a teacher.
Every class had the clowns and the wall flowers. I dealt with more than academic and discipline matters. Each young person had a life and they did not leave their worries at home when they entered my classroom. I dealt with boy-girl love issues, fist fights, divorces, serious illnesses, abuse at home, deaths of classmates and a murder-suicide of parents. Frequently, I walked the empty aisles before the morning bell praying for my students.
Sadly, both in my first school (in a tough neighborhood) and in my last school (in the suburbs), there were many students who had no father in the home. Instead of referring to “my dad,” it was “my mother’s boy-friend.” I went from my student-teaching classroom opening the day with the teacher leading her students reciting a Bible verse (Psalm 51:10) each morning, to my colleagues being vigilant that students did not “dirty dance” at school-day functions.
Finally, the day arrived when I taught the child of a former student. I really think I could have made it until I taught the grandchild of a former student, but two years after I became eligible for retirement, something happened that made me decide it was time to hang up my chalk holder.
I entered the building one morning and picked up a spare newspaper. As I flipped through the pages, I saw the obituary of a man I knew when we were boys and who had been in the Navy the same time I served. That day, I informed my principal that I was retiring at the end of the year. It was time to follow the biblical mandate and “number my days” (Psalm 90:12).
My last year of teaching was fun and rewarding. That school had an active Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a Creation Club. The students inspired me spiritually.
I had already carried out three boxes containing my personal property and mementos. I put my Philippians 4:8 plaque under my arm and moved the light switch downward. There was the hint of a tear as I looked across my final classroom. Memories of students of that year and all the years before rushed through my mind. The tear evaporated and my lips formed a tight smile. I turned the lights off. The room went dark. I closed the door. I left the campus with three boxes, but God had blessed me with 30 years of wonderful memories.