By Bill Pell
Upper School English teacher
As I conclude 45 years in the classroom, which includes nine and one-half years at Spartanburg Day School, I wonder, as I always do in May, what exactly brings me back year after year after year. I should be long retired, but, no, I continue to labor in the vineyards of academe, and, I hasten to add, I do so happily, remembering that the most enduring pleasures of teaching are working with students and developing positive relationships with them.
I am so lucky to work at SDS. Classes are small. I have total academic freedom. I have an enlightened administration. Most important, I work with wonderful, talented, and curious students. Each day, to borrow from Hemingway, is a movable feast. Which brings me to the Class of 2016. I had heard that it is really something, and it is and then some. Please see the following for an explanation.
I glory in the diversity of students. Each is, of course, different from the others, but each is also different from one day to the next, even from one minute to the next. Time spent with a class of students at any age or level of development shows the vastness of human experience and potential. Unlimited!
To have the ongoing and amazing opportunity to work with this potential is a serious pleasure, and I help students shape their interests and talents so that they will find their careers as rewarding as teaching has been for me. To help this happen, I need good relationships with them because I want them to know that I am sincere in all that I say and do, that I am not simply blowing smoke. Sometimes a total class responds, which happened this year.
Humor is important in our shared pursuit, and it is, I think, an underappreciated component of life in the classroom and life in general. (See, for example, the current political campaigns. I haven’t laughed yet!) My classroom is both serious and raucous, with everyone free to make everyone laugh, even if off topic, which gives me openings to sneak in learning. In short, our 45-minute daily gatherings are verbal and mental free-for-alls, which I love, which students appear to love. They are fun! Teaching is fun! Learning is fun!
Students enjoy creating humor themselves, as I daily enjoyed in the classroom and also evidenced by the pictures of shirts they came up with that accompany this blog. For the record, Herman is my middle name, and the picture on the back of one of the shirts is the scowl I apparently make when looking at my computer. A clever student took the picture with her cell phone, surreptitiously, of course.
Praise and acknowledgment are paramount to relationships. Everyone needs, indeed craves, both, and I give them aggressively. I say something nice as often as I can to as many students (and others) as I can. At times, this “praise” may be in the form of an ironic “insult,” intended to cause laughter, not consternation. I tell students I only insult those I like, which is almost always everyone and especially so this year in this super talented, super nice Class of 2016. Go, Griffins!
The only negative this year is that I will miss both honors night and graduation, but this blog gives me the chance I won’t have on honors night publicly to deliver thanks, praise, and exhortations to the seniors as they launch themselves into the next phases of their lives. I wish I could write a paragraph of praise about all 36 of them because they deserve it, but they know how I feel about them. We said farewell last week.
So, seniors, here goes with the final pontifications. Do not use the word “great” and feel guilty when you do because you will. No puns allowed (remember the gong). When you eat candy, have fond memories of Presnell 932. It was a smashing year all around, wasn’t it?
You are remarkable individuals, the best. Fifty of our fiery language’s most positive adjectives would not do justice to all that you are. Let it to suffice here to restate for all to see that you are creative, purposeful people of character. The last, I think, is a major foreshadower of success.
I suggest that success also depends on your always reading, thinking, discussing, and writing. As you find your roads not taken, please never abandon your stunning sense of humor, your keen sense of irony (a must in a participatory democracy), your startling passions, and your invigorating energies. How joyful they are. We need you in the future. Be great! (Oops!)
As Shakespeare (I saved him for last) puts it: “The past is prologue.” Enjoy! Thank you for being you! Thanks to your parents, too!