I was ecstatic when I got the e-mail last spring from Samantha Fuhrey, inviting me to speak to the teachers who would be new to the Newton County School System this year. I first met Samantha when I spoke to the faculty of Indian Creek Middle School, of which she was principal - and a legend among delivery men everywhere.
You'll have to ask her. I'm not telling what that was all about.
Indian Creek was great, but now I would have the privilege of addressing teachers from every school and every level of instruction, many of whom would be just starting out of their journey as educators.
What an honor! All summer I thought about the convocation that would be held at Eastside High School on the 22nd of July. I would impart so much knowledge and wisdom to the new teachers! I would make them laugh. I would make them weep. I would leave them thinking profound thoughts. I would give, I had determined, the most stimulating, the most entertaining, the most provocative and the most meaningful talk any of those in attendance had ever heard. I thought about my oration all summer. I planned it out, down to the tee. I knew which stories I would tell and with what inflection and what points I planned to make.
And then July 22 arrived and there I was, microphone in hand, in the Eastside High auditorium. And there they were, the best of the best and brightest of the bright - at the end of their very first day as employees in the Newton County public education system. The same system through which I had been educated. The same system in which I began my career as an educator. The big moment had arrived. It was time for my address.
And I blew it.
Don't get me wrong. My talk wasn't a total disaster. At least, I don't think it was. I told a few funny stories - some about education and some about other topics - and the audience laughed at the appropriate times. I didn't see anybody fall asleep and two of the three people who came in with newspapers put them away when I started talking. And no more than a dozen or so teachers were texting and twittering while I spoke.
But to be perfectly honest, I got a little caught up in my story telling and began to ramble and the good-looking blonde on the front row was videoing the presentation and I had to remember to tell them about my books and one thing led to another and before I knew it, I heard Alan Fowler's drum line warming up behind the curtain and knew that my allotted time was up. And so I quit talking before I got to tell them what I really came to tell them.
I didn't tell them, for instance, about how afraid I was on my very first day at Cousins Middle School. And I didn't tell them about the wonderful veteran teachers who took me under their wings; teachers like Carolyn Hardeman and T.K. Adams and Frances Beale. I didn't get to remind them that they weren't in the fight alone -- that there were friendly, helpful people just down the hall who would make their lives so much easier if they, the new teachers, would just avail themselves of the combined knowledge and experience at their disposal.
And I didn't get to tell them about the wonderful kids I taught at Cousins. I forgot to tell them the story about the time I handed Rita Johnson, one of the brightest students I would ever teach, a bogus progress report on April Fool's Day, indicating that she was failing my class and misbehaving daily. And I didn't get to tell them that I forgot to take it back from her or that she wound up getting a whipping at home and being sent to bed without supper. And I didn't get to tell them that 35 years later I would have to offer the eulogy at Laurita's funeral.
I didn't get to tell them enough about my wonderful teachers - like Lee Aldridge, who, to this day, comes to my back door at Christmas with wonderful books that my children and I look forward to all year. I didn't get to tell them about the essay my son Jackson wrote explaining why he decided to walk away from a potentially lucrative career in the business world to pursue a career in education.
I didn't get to tell them that despite all the frustrations they would experience as bureaucrats continue to try to judge their performances by what various subsets of students make on arbitrarily derived standardized test scores, that their real worth would be measured in their importance in the lives of the children they will teach.
There was so much I didn't get to tell them. And so when the meeting was adjourned and all the new teachers had gone home, I sat in the school lobby with Samantha and Glorianne Patterson, who had been my 12th-grade English teacher, as we swapped stories and shed tears while reflecting on what a noble calling the teaching profession really is.
Big sigh here. Oh, well. Maybe I'll get invited back sometime to tell the teachers, old and new, all the things I neglected to tell them Wednesday. And the week wasn't a total loss. The lunchroom ladies and I rocked the house Thursday morning!