Education Opinion

To Close a Door Gently

By Anthony J. Mullen — August 29, 2010 3 min read

Mohegan Lake, New York

The education aisle inside Barnes and Noble

The imminent approach of another school season has expanded space traditionally allocated to educational books and study aides. It’s a nice feeling to see books about math, science, geography, and reading and writing encroach upon the New Age and Metaphysical aisle. A wandering and aging hippie is squeezed between a toddler pulling picture books from a bottom shelf and a woman perusing SAT study guides. The toddler has assembled a small pyramid of books about farm animals near the hippie’s feet. The New Age disciple was holding a book titled How to Harness the Energy of the Pyramids when he almost tripped over the child’s cellulous model. He walked away feeling perturbed and probably a little more enlightened to life’s everyday ironies.

I am hoping to find a few good books about how to better teach students afflicted with emotional and learning disabilities. I have been away from my classroom for one year and feel as though it’s been a thousand centuries.

I glance at the overstocked bookshelves and see an old friend, Teacher Tales. The book’s brightly colored red and yellow jacket includes the following guarantee: Foreword by Anthony J. Mullen, 2009 National Teacher of the Year. A few copies of the book are turned around and I see a glossy picture of President Obama handing me a glass apple.

“You look familiar,” a lady said. She held a copy of The Princeton Review in her left hand.

I turned around and noticed that she was staring over my shoulders, directly at the picture of the president and me on the back cover.

“Are you a teacher?” I asked.

“No-but I recognize your face.”

Could this be a brief minor celebrity moment? I positioned myself closer to the image of the president and me, hoping to narrow the synapse between my face and what she saw on the back cover of the book.

“Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed. “Now I know who you are!” She stared directly at the picture of the president and me.

“Yes, that’s me on the back of the book,” I replied, trying not to appear too proud.

“Huh?” she asked.

I pointed to the back of the Teacher Tales book. She appeared bewildered and took a step backward.

“You were my son’s baseball coach over ten years ago. Do you remember David Perelman?”

I now joined company with the aging hippie and felt a little more enlightened to life’s everyday ironies.

Yet the mother of a young boy I coached over a decade ago reminded me why I was inside a Barnes and Noble bookstore in the first place. I was here to close a door gently.

I am leaving a room filled with the many kind people and peaceful places I encountered while traveling as the 2009 National Teacher of the Year. It is not an easy task to close the door to this room and to say goodbye. The room is filled with love and laughter and life, but the past does not welcome intruders and deserves a break from my prodding thoughts.

I write my last blog burdened with a heavy heart. I feel only sadness when I think about all the kind people I have met and will probably never see again, and I start to believe that memory must be a gift from a vindictive god.

I dream about the kind people and peaceful places often, but the colors are beginning to fade and I strain to listen to muffled voices. Time and distance begin to cast shadows over the images and still the echo of friends. I feel alone.

I must close the door gently because a school bell is ringing and a classroom filled with so many troubled teenagers awaits my return. We need each other and I look forward to seeing them soon. Writing for Teacher Magazine has been a privilege and helped soothe the idleness and loneliness of too much traveling, but the school bell is ringing and I must not look back upon the closing door.

I am often asked, “What did you learn as the National Teacher of the Year?” Was it Enlightenment? Transformation? Worldliness? Nah. I learned that yesterday’s problems are still with us today and despite inept miscalculations by politicians and bureaucrats that threaten the very foundation of public education, teachers have never waived. It is teachers who will somehow turn defeat into victory and not allow Race to the Top carpetbaggers to grab too much booty.

I learned that despite the paternalism practiced by politicians, parents are more astute about educational issues than previously assumed by education officials. Parents know what is best for their children and they want a louder voice in any dialogue about their child’s education. Parents cannot be demonized and manipulated in the same fashion as teachers.

But most of all, I was reminded of the beauty of teachers.

Thank you for showing me your beauty and kindred spirit.

A school bell is ringing. I must close a door gently now and answer its call.

The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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