Voices: New school year, old memories provide hope for future
By Stan Yanchus
The new school year is here, which means for many of us that summer is over (regardless of scientific criteria for determining the seasons). Although summer provides opportunities for many people to relax and recharge their batteries, it is also an important time for students, parents, educators and communities to plan and prepare for the upcoming school year and for the future.
Some recent local educational news has included stories about the UIUC Chancellor's Academy, administrator and school board planning retreats, special learning seminars for teachers, and more. Add summer classes, seminars and programs for students and educators to the mix, and it is clear that this past summer has been a busy one for everyone connected to our schools.
Based on my own teaching experiences in the Champaign school district for 26 years prior to my retirement, being busy in the summer is the norm not the exception for many educators.
In addition to being involved in the above summertime school activities throughout my teaching career, I also prepared at the end of summer for the upcoming school year by looking at yearbooks from previous years. This activity helped me to reflect more closely about my teaching by focusing me on my students, and it always filled me with enthusiasm and hope for the new year.
The first summer after my retirement from full-time teaching, I once again found myself pulling the yearbooks off the bookshelf, year by year, 26 in all. I was not sure if I was continuing the practice because of habit, or because I was already experiencing retirement remorse from leaving a job that I loved.
Whenever I look at these pictures of students from over the years, I am filled with conflicting emotions. I am pumped full of joy as I marvel over the lives of many former students who have gone on to achieve remarkably in so many endeavors. Among them are numerous academics, actors, attorneys, carpenters, electricians, engineers, entrepreneurs, mechanics, musicians, pastors, physicians, researchers, writers, and even a few professional and Olympic athletes. Particularly close to my heart are the more than 40 students who chose teaching as a career, especially those who became colleagues.
As I turn the pages of the yearbooks, however, at times my happiness is pushed aside by melancholy as looking up at me are pictures of students whose lives have been filled with more sorrow than joy, scarred by a variety of personal tragedies. Their heart-rending stories include struggles with addiction, failed relationships, serious health problems, crushed dreams, and even prison. Far too many have passed from this world far too soon, victims of accidents, drug overdoses, and a myriad of health problems, especially cancer. Particularly heartbreaking are the memories of those who ended their lives with their own hands. Although the joyful lives and memories far outnumber the tragic ones, both serve to give me a deeper appreciation for life.
Since my recent memory journey through the yearbooks was about reflecting on my career rather than preparing for a new year of students, I paid more attention than usual to the pictures of my former colleagues and the administrators and support staff with whom I had worked.
Memories of my co-workers fused with the memories of my former students as I recalled how important the roles of cooperation and support had been in preparing our students to face life's challenges. I also remembered how many parents and community members had supported my students and me in so many ways.
These memories and the thoughts and feelings accompanying them strengthen my belief that (to paraphrase an old African proverb), it really does take an entire community to educate our children. And once again, I feel myself filling with hope for the future.
I think that I will keep looking at my old yearbooks each year, because I appreciate both the memories and the hope they give me.
Stan Yanchus taught in the Champaign school district for 26 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.