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Ventura County Perspective

School Is Out, Teach Is on Her Sun Deck--Let the Renewal Begin

Note to the envious: Summer break is not a luxury. It's a necessity for those who truly commit themselves to the well-being of children.

July 05, 1998|ALICIA A. REYNOLDS | Alicia A. Reynolds teaches English at Oxnard High School

"It must be so nice to be a teacher this time of year," a friend exclaimed as I collapsed into my summer hiatus. Until Aug. 24, my colleagues and I have a reprieve from the front lines in the battle to educate America's youth.

By the way, the high school where I teach is in just about the only district in the nation to have been in session so long. I'm still amazed at how well our students performed although their peers at other Ventura County schools were out two weeks earlier.

As the school year finally ended, I had only to worry about cleaning out my classroom for the poor soul who would teach remedial English this summer. Packing up a classroom is akin to packing up your kitchen--all that little stuff you use throughout the year has to be carefully stored away. As always, there is the crisis over what to throw out. With one file cabinet to house materials for three courses and more than 170 students, everything not absolutely necessary goes into the circular file--no mercy!

In a sense, this summer cleaning forces me to evaluate just what I have accomplished during the school year.

As I poke through my packets of short stories--Hawthorne, Hemingway, Bellow, Cisneros, Morrison . . . more than I can name--I wonder just what it is I have taught. I suppose my counterparts in other departments go through much the same. I suppose those in math wonder if the beauty and logic of geometry have made this fuzzy world any clearer. Those in science no doubt hope they have helped their students unlock the secrets of the natural world, while those in physical education wonder if their hard work has imbued their students with a lifelong love for fitness. Those in history pray, as do we all, that their students will not be doomed to repeat the past.

I suppose, no matter the subject or the age, we teachers all try to reflect upon what we have imparted to all those shining faces who have graced our classrooms.

I know that while I sun upon my deck this summer and sip an occasional glass of wine, I'll ponder just what these burgeoning adults under my care have gathered about life from Shakespeare and Miller. What will they carry away after having read the works of all those "dead white guys" and all those impassioned multicultural prophets who cry out to us in the wilderness of our modern society?

Will young men have gained a deeper compassion toward their female counterparts by reading Alice Walker? Will Latinos come to see themselves in the faces of their Asian peers by reading Amy Tan? Does Shakespeare's Hamlet resonate with the expectant teenage mother who also struggles to discern the right course of action? Do T.S. Eliot's poetic images of alienation ring true with our leather-clad, body-pieced youth who drift in a wasteland of meaningless sex, drug abuse and random violence?

After all those lectures, assignments, projects and individual student conferences, you wonder if any seeds of wisdom from your lips will blossom within the minds and hearts of the children entrusted to your care. You wonder if you've made a dent in what seems to be a thickening shell of ignorance. You wonder and you hope that, when all is said and done, you've made a difference.

These lingering questions accompany most devoted teachers throughout the summer months as they make plans for the coming year. Plans to constantly improve our lessons with an infusion of fresh ideas, new materials and energized relevancy. Plans to meet the next year's challenges with new vigor and dedication.

For teachers, summer break is more than a vacation. It is a time of renewal, reflection and preparation to meet the ever-increasing needs of our youth in a society that has placed too many of them at risk.

Summer vacation is not a luxury; it is a necessity for those of us who have committed ourselves to the well-being of our children--your children.

Summer vacation is more than nice, I told my friend. It's a godsend.

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