Sitting in the midst of teenagers reluctantly taking a poetry test, I watch them for the wrong turn of the head, a suspicious glance of an eye. Sitting ever vigilant, moving my own eyes across the room, hearing an errant complaint mumbled into the atmosphere, I guard the integrity of Room N103.
What am I doing here? I’m retired. I no longer help the not knowing to know any knowledge. I don’t quiet the talkative, hush the whisperer, correct the cheater, coerce the unwilling. I don’t calm classrooms, study students, or examine the examinees. Not now – not in this, the second year of my retirement. I don’t take a test on keeping the classroom quiet while students take a test on poetry.
I am wrong! I am substituting for a friend, a former colleague who had surgery, and I realize that old habits die hard.
These teenagers will take the test and take it honestly. Sitting in the back of the classroom (the better perch from which to observe), I still notice the tilt of a pony tail, any movement not in sync with test-taking. I’ve only known these students a few days, and yet I’ve known them for decades it seems, the practiced stretch, the distracting cough, the exaggerated head rolls. I have not forgotten the language of their bodies. I can still translate.
Ah! Poor babies! They think the word “substitute” on my name tag means “clueless”; they would never imagine it means “veteran.” They’ve been warned. They took no heed.
Suddenly, in spite of my frustration and fatigue, in spite of my wanting to be somewhere – almost anywhere – else, I feel a shocking rush of gratitude. From nowhere. Gratitude for this day has taken over this moment, gratitude for the opportunity to keep my skills honed, gratitude for the chance to help out a colleague, gratitude for the fact that I’m healthy and able to be here, even gratitude for the few students who appreciate what I’m doing when setting boundaries. I feel gratitude galore for the friendly faces of my friends on the faculty, my family from my teaching years whom I love to this day.
Suddenly, in spite of the nervous twitching around me, the efforts to slip something by me, the energy it takes me to stay vigilant……suddenly I’m reminded from a power so much greater than I that life is good. All really is, at this moment, right with the world.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t grateful when the day was over!