For a long time, the students that I taught were my life. I got up early in the morning and went to work as a high school English teacher. During the day, I filled my hours with their business- their educational needs, their learning styles, the curriculum, the benchmarks, making sure information was relevant and accessible, their various daily moods and attitudes, and on some days, I helped them take apart their world-weary concerns. After school, I coached cheerleading, sponsored some clubs and organizations, and some nights, with my family, I attended their games.
I loved teaching and loved my students. I learned early on that each student was their own individual gem– each student had something valuable to offer. I made a point of reminding myself everyday, even when I wanted to strangle someone, that they were 1. teenagers, 2. they were experimenting with boundaries, thoughts and their independence, and 3. even if I couldn’t see it right then, they indeed had something wonderful about them.
One of the richest things about teaching high school kids is that– yes, I taught them all kinds of literature, creative writing, persuasive writing, how to write a killer essay, theater and a list of electives, but they often were the ones who taught me as well. The best moments were when they ran off with the lesson all by themselves, like when one student hung up paper cutouts of arms in the hallway after an athletic victory, a la Beowulf, and when two students hotly debated the parallels between Macbeth and Star Wars.
I taught them about ‘barbaric yawps,’ about ‘marching to a different drummer,’ about ‘the road not taken,’ about ‘what happens to dreams deferred,’ and coaxed them to, ‘above all, to thine own self be true.’ But, one morning, I could not hold back my grief when Matthew Buryska ‘crossed the bar.’ During his funeral, I recited in my mind, ‘Death, be not proud…’
A year before he passed, my advanced theater class decided they wanted to take on the challenge of writing a script rather than performing in a play. Together, they developed a story, The Veracity of Quinn, which was based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The play addressed modern-day rejection and bullying at a fictional boarding school: St. Hugo Academy, named in honor of Victor Hugo. Matthew helped create a school crest and suggested the motto: Esse Quam Videri, or “to be, rather than to seem.”
It wasn’t a sudden transformation, nor was it a quick decision, but one day I knew I needed to leave teaching. I had put my authentic Self on a shelf in a dark, dusty back room and forgotten me. I had dismissed my own dreams, desires, and passions. How could I tell anyone to ‘hitch their wagons to a star’ when I had fallen into a ‘waking sleep?’ No! I realized how much I needed to ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ My own candle needed tending, so chose to go back to school for a degree in linguistics, one that I had wanted for years.
I taught, and was taught. And, one of the most valuable lessons I learned: Esse Quam Videri.
© Pamela K. Wright 2014