Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thank God, I'm a Country Boy

“Well life on the farm is kinda laid back
Ain’t much an old country boy like me can’t hack
It’s early to rise, early in the sack
Thank God, I’m a Country Boy.” -Lyrics by John Martin Sommers

The first day of school comes with a sudden bursting rush. Hallways flooded with noisy, howling, screaming, frothing kids. Forgot their books. Mixed up schedules. Late at the bell. The freaks and geeks of teenagedom scurrying in confusion. Where am I and where am I supposed to be? It’s chaos, and can eat a person alive.
“When the work’s all done and the sun’s settin’ low
I pull out my fiddle and I rosin’ up the bow
The kids are asleep so I keep it kinda low...”

Teachers too. Locked out of classrooms. Ran out of chalk. Photocopier jammed. Coffee maker overloads. A sudden change in the curriculum, a last minute shift can make some pedagogs quake in their boots.
“Well I wouldn’t trade my life for diamonds or jewels
I never was one of them money hungry fools
I’d rather have my fiddle and my farmin’ tools…”

No. No, not me. Standing in the doorway trying to hide my smile. I love the first day of school, because that means I am singing.
“Yeah, city folk drivin’ in a black limousine
A lotta sad people thinkin’ that’s mighty keen
Son, let me tell ya now exactly what I mean…”

Well, let’s face it. Most days I am singing to my students one way or another. A Robert Frost poem here a Langston Hughes lyric there. Every year, a song on the first day. As I enter my 18th year, it has become my own little tradition.
“My daddy taught me young how to hunt and how to whittle
He taught me how to work and play a tune on the fiddle
Taught me how to love and how to give just a little…”

I have two 7th grade classes this year. I can’t believe I am teaching children so young. They arrive so wide-eyed and innocent, knowing so little about the world. Yet I see potential in them. We start the year with Aesop’s fables and move into Greek myths: Prometheus and Demeter, Perseus and Medusa. Yes, I’m the right man for the job.
My 9th graders are back as well. Old familiar faces that are like family members now. We can communicate without saying a word. These are the students that made it through our Rock N Roll Romeo and Juliet play last year, now all serious with thoughts toward the National Exam this summer. We will be studying American lit: Poe and Twain, Steinbeck and Hemmingway. My goals are simple, make friendships with each of them that will last a lifetime.
No easy task, huh?
“Well, I got me a fine wife, I got me old fiddle
When the sun’s comin’ up I got cakes on the griddle
Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny, funny riddle…”

So the students come in and I call them to order. I tell them about life on my parent’s farm, about growing up a young boy walking into the fields carrying a book under my arm. My stories are now tried and true. Then I sing, “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy,” by John Martin Sommers, it’s the tune I’ve had in my head while sailing all through the Mediterranean this past summer.
Time for autumn now. School books and heavy looks. Soon will come Benjamin Franklin and James Fennimore Cooper, Shakespeare in the winter, Harlem Renaissance in the spring. The year is shaping up nicely. Inside these classroom walls though, time always stands still.

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