Making the Grade: Paul Tamburello
A monthly column in Brookline TAB
One last go around
Wednesday, September 3, 2003
This commentary was taped for the "Radio Diary" section of Tom Ashbrook's On Point program on WBUR. To hear it click http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2003/09/20030903_a_main.asp and click on "A Teacher Bids Farewell" - Listen
This is my last go round. On Opening Day this September, I'll be poised on the dugout steps to start my final season, my thirty fourth in the major leagues of education. The sound of the school bell at eight o'clock will be my national anthem, the potent ritual moment of tradition and expectation announcing the beginning of the action. And my last innings as an elementary school teacher.
How did the years go by so swiftly, how much have I accomplished, what's my place in the pantheon of my school's history? More importantly what's my place in the personal pantheons of the hundreds of fourth graders whom I've taught, advised, disciplined, and eaten lunch with for the past 33 years.
During the next 10 months, I anticipate the bittersweet experience of watching the doors of a lifetime's career at the same school slowly swing closed. I can see myself grinning with a mysterious Buddha grin at the preposterousness that I'm old enough to retire.
Every school day a little voice in my head is going to be whispering, "Hey, Paul, this is the last time in your career that you'll be doing this routine."
It will begin the first week of school when I have my students put materials in the time capsule that they'll open in June. During the days in between, I wonder how many times Ill have to stop myself from writing suggestions in the margins of my teaching materials for how I can improve my delivery next year.
It will be an ongoing one hundred and eighty day out-of-body experience, looking from above at myself as I perform the usual and the unusual, the mundane and the miraculous...every day staples of a teacher's life.
As in years past, I'll revel in the miracle of "Ohh, I get it now...," reap the reward of watching kids plug away tenaciously at something they cannot yet do, and trust I'll have the experience as a teacher to know when to intervene and when to just get out of the way.
I know that what I do in the classroom makes a difference in kids' lives, and by now I'm comfortable with the fact that I don't always know precisely what that difference is. Visits by former students from their 20s to their 40s, an impressive sight to the ten year olds in the room, reinforces my belief.
I'm ending my career with what most eluded me in the beginning: wisdom and perspective. In my rookie years, I envied the grasp my older colleagues seemed to have on their game. They knew how to play the questions off The Wall as well as any left fielder in Fenway Park, and they never seemed to be in a day to day survival mode, wondering what the manager, other players, and even the fans, thought about their stats. I've taught in the shadows of giants and been astonished to learn that even the best of them battled spells of self doubt. I've gone from promising rookie to dependable veteran. I survived then thrived. But I also aged.
It's time to go.
I know that I'm one of hundreds of gray haired teachers across the nation who are fading into the Field of Dreams. In the coming days before school officially opens, I'll survey this year's teaching team, the veterans, the rookies, and the administrator managers. One of those promising rookies in my shadow is me a lifetime ago.
When I pack up my bag at the end of this year, I won't look back. I don't have any illusions about how much I'll be missed. After 34 years, I know the game is more important than the players. I know I made a contribution to the people and to the culture of the school when I was there and that I will not be in the lineup next year.
It's time to go.
There is still time to swing open another door, be a rookie again, and learn from veterans.
It's time to begin again.
Paul Tamburello is a writer and teacher who has taught in Brookline since 1970.
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