Not Among School Children

For whatever reason, in the second half of my teaching career, the last fifteen years or so, I became much more lenient.  In fact, one of the reasons I decided to retire was that I thought I was becoming too lackadaisical. When colleagues complained about slacker advisees from my homeroom, I didn’t rebuke the advisees. After asking them if everything was okay, I informed them that Mr.or Ms so-and-so was complaining to me about undone homework or subpar test performances, so they needed to talk to the teacher and rectify the situation. I rarely if ever called their parents myself.

In the olden days of the previous century, I would have warned the underachiever that in China or India youthful competitors were going to school eight hours a day year-round and would be competing with them economically on a global scale. “Why pay top dollar for an American CPA,” I would ask rhetorically, “when I can electronically send my taxes to Mumbai for a fraction of the cost?”  I’d point out that their parents’ wealth (I taught at an independent school) would be divided among their siblings, that the moment they graduated from college, they’d need health insurance,[1]that they were very likely as adults to suffer a lower standard of living than they’re accustomed unless they put their all in all into their studies. Then I might wax more spiritual by pointing out the cultural riches they were squandering – the elegance of algebraic formulae, the grand sweep of history, the thunder of Milton, the dirges of Keats. The more you know the more interesting you are, I’d tell them. “You don’t want to be an ignoramus, do you? Ignoramuses are boring.”

The older I got, though, the more I remembered what a slacker I had been in high school.  I mostly read my English assignments and history assignments, scratched out my papers on time, but I hardly gave math or science the time of day (or night, to be more exact). In my last few years as a teacher, when worn out Bennington (male) or Mason (female) laid their sleepy heads on their desks, I’d let them snooze. If they were that exhausted, I figured sleep was more beneficial to them that morning than the smug, self-righteous proclamations of Henry David Thoreau. Sometimes, if students were talking in class, I’d say.”Shhhhh, Bennington’s trying to sleep.”

My classes were still challenging, my tests still demanding, but I was less draconian in grading essays. 

Given that late mellowness, why then, now that I’m retired, do I find myself getting so easily irked by the petty transgressions of the people I encounter on the small bohemian barrier island I call home? 

This morning, for example, as I was walking my dog, I felt the hall monitor’s self-righteousness, felt like suggesting to pedestrians they walk on the left facing traffic and to cyclists that they ride on the right with the flow of traffic. “And while you’re at it, stand up straight!” I felt like bellowing.

And, oh, these just beyond toddlers, wearing their colorful little helmets, wobbling on their tiny bikes in the middle of Hudson Street. Haven’t their parents heard of natural selection? Don’t they realize that texting teens barrel up and down these thoroughfares?  Have they not noticed the memorial cross on the corner of 2nd and Cooper where some drunkard ran the stop sign and snuffed out another’s life?

But, of course, I keep my mouth shut. I don’t even bother to shake my head sadly. As Yeats put it:

Better to smile on all that smile, and show

There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.


[1] Obamacare didn’t exist.