Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Book day

May was the busiest month of the school year---always. In fact, I don't know how we teachers and students managed to pack so much into the time slots and come out sane with research papers, special spring projects, year-end parties, Class Night, the Prom, finals, graduation, etc. And, with all that, at home there was always plenty of yard and garden work. Five years out, I still don't know how teachers do it all, and I think back, wondering how I did it all.

May was also the most sentimental time of the year. Seniors were looking off toward their futures while struggling to let go of the security net of classmates, teachers and parents who had been a part of their every day. The realization that life would never be the same and that most of these folks would be left behind often was too much for some students.

Late in my career, I remember watching a young man sit outside my classroom window on a picnic table and cry his eyes out on his last day at school. This individual, an outstanding athlete, was far from being what most would classify a wuss. That day, the reality of life never being quite the same just hit him between the eyes, and his emotions got the best of him.

A big contributor to these weeks of sentimentality and nostalgia came in early May. As the yearbook adviser for 14 years, I knew that once the annuals came out of the boxes and into the hands of students and faculty, the daily school routine would change dramatically.

A common scene might include the continual request in the classroom of "Put your yearbooks away, please," from teachers trying to cram some knowledge into already-distracted minds. Or, outside the building during noon hour, one could see clumps of students gathered in their circles on green lawns, heads down, scanning the pages or writing their profound thoughts in a friend's book. The silence of these gatherings was often startling as normally noisy students were so totally engrossed in this annual rite of spring.

We, on the yearbook staff, usually experienced a mixed-bag of emotions, ranging from the sentimental reminders of a tight-knit staff soon to go its separate ways to the dread that someone's name did NOT match someone's photo. We would hear about every mistake made, usually within minutes of yearbook distribution. And the manner in which we heard it wasn't always nice. What the complainers never considered was the possibility of human error from their teenage contemporaries, especially when so many fingers worked in the pot. Nonetheless, we dealt with those mistakes as best we could.

Generally, however, we stood proud and satisfied with what we had accomplished and of how much better this year's annual was that last year's. Probably the best part of yearbook production was the lifelong friendships that grew out of planning the current year's theme, working together in the darkroom, sitting side by side while drawing those layouts or checking names against faces with that long roll of class mugs.

I can't help but think about yearbook time this morning because today marks the arrival of my own book covering 33 years of school life at that same place where we produced all those Monticolas. Like the day before yearbooks arrived, excitement and fear pretty much parallel each other right now.

I know we have a beautiful cover for Lessons with Love, but what reactions can come from all those readers with all those different perspectives when they start digesting the pages within? Have I made mistakes while writing my own perceptions of all those memories? Have we missed some typos during the several stages of proofreading. Will the pages be upside down?

A lot of nightmares go through one's head, even during the daytime, while awaiting the arrival of a project with so many years of investment and so many good people involved in the process. Having been through this twice before, I can easily say that producing a book is pretty much like having a child. It's your baby, which has required much nurturing, care and patience. And, like your own kids, once it's out there for the world to see, the outcome can be unpredictable depending on where it goes and with whom it meets.

Like a doting parent, I hope most folks like what they see with this new baby of mine and like it enough to keep it around for a while. And, if there are a few mistakes or misconceptions, I hope readers realize we're all human and we all see the world just a bit differently. I also hope its stories are entertaining and a bit insightful into the world of school teachers, especially those of us lucky enough to teach in small-town schools where problems may seem insignificant in relation to to the horrors we often hear about in the inner cities.

Well, I babble. There's work to do today, so I'd better get at it. I'll sign off with one last thought. Yearbook time in May usually inspired a myriad of moments for reflecting on special times spent with a unique circle of people who played major and minor roles in the countless subplots of our lives. I hope my new book will do the same.

Note: Now, after all that pre-book arrival contemplation, I've learned a while ago that it was all in vain for today. The books won't arrive until tomorrow. Oh, well, that gives me one more day to ponder.

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