Averyell A. Kessler
It’s the last day of school and my final day as a sixth grader at Power School. My brain is pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. We all are. Even our teacher has a faraway look in her eyes as she tries to hold back an imminent explosion of joy. Outside, the custodian and his crew are mowing and the fragrant aroma of just-cut clover drifts through the open windows in my classroom. The brown grass edging Riverside Drive is turning lush green, and pink puffs are falling from the mimosa trees on the front lawn. It’s summer. No one can hold it back. I feel it in every inch of my body, tingling like an electric current, or the stomach-churning rush of a rapidly descending elevator. After today, I’ll be free. A stay up late, run through the sprinkler, bubble blowing, bike riding, dive and splash summer stretches out like a golden road. I pay no attention to the sweat dibbing into my socks.
About a mile to the east, the swimming pool folks at Riverside Park are preparing to open, sweeping the remains of winter debris from the empty pool, and stocking the concession stand with Tootsie Rolls, Life Savers, and Bit’O Honey bars. They’re revving up the snow-ball machine too. If I’m lucky, they’ll purchase a cotton candy machine. If I’m truly lucky, Mama will buy me a new swimsuit and a bathing cap covered with flowers. No chin strap!
But the day is moving like molasses. Bright afternoon sunlight pours into the classroom and warm air covers me like a wool blanket. Desperation sits in the desk beside me, staring with laughing eyes. Gotcha, it says. I am trapped, held prisoner by the oversized wall clock hanging over Miss Latham’s desk. I am surprised when she stands, looks at her watch, and makes a stunning announcement.
“I think we still have time to check the spelling test we took yesterday.” Oh no! I’ve been dreading this, hoping beyond hope that she’d forgotten about yesterday’s 45-word monster. Instead, she plows ahead, methodically passing out papers so that no one gets his own test. I sit squirming as Jimmy Evans’ test falls on my desk. Then it begins, Miss Latham patiently calls out Arizona – A-r-i-z-o-n-a, Kentucky – K-e-n-t-u-c-k-y, misery – m-i-s-e-r-y, despair d-e-s-p-a-i-r. Finally, she says, freedom – f-r-e-e-d-o-m. I rejoice. Jimmy scores 100, because I have not looked at a single word on his test. Miss Latham collects the papers. I doubt she will even glance at them, but the last torment is over. I look at the clock again. Hallelujah, it’s almost time for the bell. No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks! In five minutes, I’ll be gone forever. Gone? Forever? I remember the day it started. It’s only a whisp of remembrance, but it’s there.
In August of my 2nd grade year, new Power School was finally finished and ready to welcome its first students. A modern yellow brick marvel, it was a sprawling, one story building settled in the middle of 5 acres fronting on Riverside Drive. The campus included a softball diamond, a basketball blacktop, hopscotch patterns, and a wide lawn for games. Our new desks were even footed (no rocking) and without initials carved on top or concrete globs of bubble gum stuck under the bottom. The black boards had become green boards, and the windows opened wide to receive fresh air. Everything was fresh and clean, the walls were spotless, and seamless linoleum floors were polished to a high gloss. On that first day, we gathered around the flagpole with our teachers and parents, as Miss Briscoe, the principal, welcomed and blessed us. We sang a loud, off-key version of My Country Tis of Thee, recited the Pledge of Allegiance as the flag was raised for the first time. Here we come, ready or not. After everyone walked inside for punch and cookies, our parents wrangled us into our classrooms and kissed up goodbye. The new school had opened, and we settled in to learn the latest and greatest from a cadre of teachers, both young and old. Anything was possible.
Now it is ending. This is my last day in Miss Latham’s room, my final stroll down the long hall leading to the cafeteria, my last time to slink past Miss Biscoe’s office and hope she doesn’t catch me sprinting across the front lawn. Bailey Jr. High was a gleaming star on a high hill, an exciting unknown adventure, with new friends, new teachers and the tantalizing prospect of lipstick and high heels. I couldn’t wait.
I am thankful for my Power School teachers. They taught for the love of the job and of the kids too. They would rather have endured a three- hour root canal than miss a day of school. They called our parents when we were out with measles and intervened if anyone was being pushed around on the playground. They patched up skinned knees and helped us button our coats on freezing winter days. They had rules, could control a giggling classroom by clapping their hands, and God help the poor child who stepped out of line. They smiled when we did well, and worried when we didn’t. Not just because of our failure, but because of theirs also.
I hope there’s a good teacher or two out there now, people who teach because they love learning and slog through difficulty to make sure everybody learns to read, understands fractions, and can write a proper sentence with a minimum of difficulty. The good ones open sleepy eyes and help fledgling adults emerge from the chrysalis of childhood. They are a parent’s best friend, and an ally in learning. They lead us forward, point to the stairsteps of knowledge, and say, “One step at a time. Take my hand. Let’s climb together.” They are a blessing. I remember them all.