The high school graduation season is ended on Long Island. Summer’s moving into high gear. The seniors have moved on, ready to begin the next stages of their lives. All the students in my junior English class are looking forward to senior year. All of them, but not me. I’ve been left back. Again. Stuck in junior English for the 32nd time.
I’ve been close to advancement a few times. One year I even spoke at graduation. It was a great honor. People applauded. And still, they didn’t let me graduate. September came around, and I was in the same classroom, reading the same books, knowing all the endings. Everybody else was a stranger. Everything was new for everyone else. I had no friends. Didn’t know a soul except Gatsby and Hamlet and Emily Webb.
At the start of the school year, everybody else talked so much the noise reminded me of an orchestra warming up. Looking around the classroom, I felt alone and hopeful. I consoled myself with the thought that this might be the year. This might be my June. I might finally move up and get out of junior English class.
But it didn’t happen. And now all the people in my class whom I gradually came to know and even like are gone. Moved ahead without me. I’ve been left back. Again.
So, a bizarre thing has happened: I’ve grown old in high school. I’ve become an old man. True, far from decrepit — I’m not ready for the Guinness Book of Records — but still, unnaturally old for high school.
I mean, isn’t high school supposed to be a passage? A journey rather than a destination? You endure it. You overcome it. Nowadays, before they even leave it, students become nostalgic, remembering the good times.
But what if you’ve never left? How can I look back when it’s right here all around me each and every year? Again. Over and over.
The people change, but the place remains basically the same.
Oh, I’ve endured the cosmetic changes: celluloid film to VHS to DVD; the evolution of chalkboard to white board to Smart Board; the transformation from handwritten grade books and pocket calculators to online grade book programs; and the rise of the ubiquitous smartphone. But the bell schedule, the calendar, the cheers at athletic events, the applause at concerts and plays, the snow days, the meetings, the crowded hallways, the excited chatter, the lines of yellow school buses in the mornings and afternoons, the American flag flapping atop the pole in front of the building, these things don’t change. After all these years, that sameness provides comfort.
So, July and August will heal my bruised ego. I have not been promoted. Again. No matter. A couple of trees in the backyard need trimming. A new path off the back deck needs building. I can awaken to the sound of the birds rather than before them. Sit by the fire pit and watch the stars appear in the darkening sky. Hopefully, by September I’ll be ready to meet some new faces. And I’ll start renewed. I’ll work real hard and do my best. I guess I’ll be OK, even if I get left back . . . again.
After all, I’m a teacher. It’s what we do.
Reader Jim Incorvaia, who teaches English at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, lives in Westbury.