There, I did it. I just filed the last of my report cards. Mark the time: 11:30 a.m. on June 7th, 2010. While we still have a week of exit meetings, this moment, for all intents and purposes, represents the end of my first full year of teaching high school students. I remember trying to map out my year back in August (I’m fairly certain none of my carefully configured plans actually occurred when they were supposed to) and thinking, “Wow, June’s gonna be a long way away.” Well, I was wrong. This year was a blur, a high-speed Amtrak train hurtling through a balmy fall, a blizzard-filled winter, and into storm-plagued spring. It’s been a ride.
I teach upper school English here at Highland School, a private institution in Warrenton, Virginia. We sit just inside the DC metro area, about 35 minutes from the city. However, make no mistake about it, even though DC keeps trying to expand outward, this is still beautiful horse country nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Besides the aforementioned English, I offer an upper class Speech elective, coach basketball and baseball, advise the baking club (aka the “get Mr. Ross fat club”), serve as an advisor for freshmen students, and lead field studies into the wilderness around the area. Needless to say, I’m busy.
And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my job, I love the school, the area, the kids, and (most of) my colleagues. You know how Tim O’Brien spends a chapter in The Things They Carried trying to describe how Curt Lemon died? He tells the story different times from different angles to try to get it right, but can’t quite explain that moment. Well, although it might serve as a poor analogy, I would need to do the same thing here to express how much I have enjoyed this year. Highland School has embraced me and I have embraced it back (that’s not to say I spend all my time here, we are very close to DC and Baltimore after all).
There is no joy quite the same as watching students grow before your eyes and hoping that maybe, just maybe, you had something to do with it. There is no happiness like having students thank you for helping them become better students or having parents say how much you have helped their child become a better person. What field, what job, could be more rewarding?
I’ve had a 10th grade honors student write an essay describing how Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart works to develop sameness (while still retaining many differences) between Africa and the West by taking content specific emotions and universalizing them. I’ve also had a regular ninth grader finally figure out what a thesis is. Man, that’s the good stuff.
When the year began, I much preferred teaching my 10th grade honors kids. They are so bright and eager to learn. It is exhilarating working with them. However, come March, I began to like working with my ninth grade regular students more. They were growing so quickly and the light had finally come on. With Oedipus Rex and Romeo and Juliet, these kids got it. They were completely tuned in.
Do I engage in hyperbole here? Perhaps, but, in good, O’Brien fashion, if I have to exaggerate in order to make you feel the truth of my experience, then so be it. I know I could not be happier and more satisfied right now. I know I am loving life. Even more, I know I could not have done it without the support, criticism, and guidance of Wittenberg’s English and Philosophy departments. Only after seeing what excellent educators look like, how they engage with students, could I hope to at least try to become one myself. The professors at Wittenberg gave me a fire (dare I say passed me a torch?) that represents a burning passion for education that I hope to spread. They’ve showed me how what we learn in the classroom translates to how we act in the world. I can only hope to do the same with my students.
Ronnie Ross ‘09