Continuing education

THE morning I walked down the hall to my last class, after 45 years of teaching in Texas, I felt like an alien about to embark on strange and foreign shores. Loss of contact with scores of young people in the offing, I wondered what this radical change in a way of life held in promise. Of one thing I was certain, the end of pleasant classroom associations over long and fruitful years.

I thought of Thomas De Quincey who, with many misgivings, prepared to leave Manchester Grammar School. He recalled Dr. Johnson's remark that we do things for the last time with sadness of heart.

Except for students inquiring on the nature of their final examination (multiple choice, identification of lines, discussion), the class moved along as usual. We were finishing a unit in English poetry. I tried to give no indication that I would retire at the end of the session. However, while I read the closing line of Milton's ``Lycidas,'' ``Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new,'' a perceptive student in the front row looked up with a questioning face. Evidently he had detected a false note in my poorly controlled voice.

Thankful for the bell, I returned to the office to wait for a customary visit from my friend Raymond. During these after-class meetings we usually took up such academic affairs as research and promotions, sometimes delving into national events. Raymond being the sharpest member on our staff, I was a good listener.

But on that occasion he simply began, ``Now that it's all over, how do you feel?''

``Lost,'' I replied, without hesitation.

My friend turned this over in his mind before responding.

``That's hard to believe,'' he finally said. ``You have health, fringe benefits, and no more themes to grade. Just think of all that freedom, time to travel, to garden in your backyard, to mess with those watercolors. You may yet become a Constable or a Turner.''

``Thanks for putting me in such good company,'' I said.

He continued to list potential blessings as I made and served coffee. I expected him to bring up the school's administration problems, but he still considered my retirement.

``What will you miss most?''

Again I did not have to search for an answer, ``The students.''

Now almost a dozen years have elapsed since that meeting. In the meantime I have tended many flower beds and produced vegetables on fencerow gardens. Not to mention ruining a number of expensive Arches watercolor pads. My wife and I have done some traveling. Above all else, however, I am most grateful to discover that I had been wrong about missing students.

Today, wherever I go in Texas, north to Dallas or south to Brownsville, I happen upon former students. Often in supermarkets, department stores, on the streets, I am greeted with, ``Say! I remember you, my old English teacher.'' These frequent and pleasant encounters, unforeseen by Raymond, dispel the feeling of lostness. They are more than a fringe benefit of a noble profession.

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