Those memories are still fresh. It was as if those two days were nearly just yesterdays. They will never fade, never go away, even though it was many years ago, over half a century ago.
On both those days I was gazing at an empty, silent classroom. I was alone with my thoughts. The six rows of desks were firmly secured to the floor. On that first of September day, the walls were tabula rasa, blank, but full of potential, awaiting my attention.
I had only a few days to prepare for the 40 grade six and seven boys that would soon be tumbling through the doorway. They wouldn’t know what to expect – but neither would I.
I was fresh out of high school. My only preparation for standing at the front of a class was a 45-day emergency course that was designed to cope with the drastic teacher shortage of the 1960s.
Ten months later I was staring at the same classroom walls, walls that still seemed to be echoing with their shouts, whispers, exclamations of astonishment, surprise, relief and joy. But the boys were gone, off for their well-deserved summer holidays.
It had been a year of challenging learning experiences for them. I pushed them to be their best, even more than their best, far more than other more traditional teachers had expected of them.
Just as they had been expected to stretch themselves, to think outside the box, high demands were also imposed on me. Just as most of my education hadn’t come out of the book, I tried to set up situations for them to explore beyond the book. We had field trips that took us to the creek that meandered nearby, to the automobile assembly plant in Brampton, to the airline hangar at Malton and the bustling harbour.
As I gazed at the empty classroom, I was sure of only one thing. I had done my best. They too had been challenged to do their best.
All of us, including you the reader, have been in the situation of facing a tabula rasa, the clean state opportunity that is presented by being on the ground floor of a project, whether it be the beginning of a marriage, the first job of one’s chosen profession or the launching a new business venture.
You may ask, “What prompted you to write about something that happened over 50 years ago?” It must have been my witnessing a very similar situation for our parish priest. He had just said his last mass at what was his very first posting as a pastor, despite being a recently-ordained young priest. As part of the periodic every five-year rotation of most priests in the Cornwall-Alexandria diocese he’s off to another parish.
As he gazed at the empty church, thoughts of the many baptisms, weddings, confessions and funerals he had conducted must have travelled through his mind.
As we all approach the end of our lives, we are also challenged to evaluate what we have done, what we failed to do and what lasting good we have accomplished.