The three of us sit around a small table near the windows in the back corner of Peter’s French classroom. It’s the middle of the school year, so the afternoon light is dim. Peter, my “cooperating teacher”, and Bev, my Masters supervisor, and I have each filled in a questionnaire about my strengths and areas for growth after my first semester of student teaching. So far, we’ve all agreed on the ratings and the whole meeting has been lovely, but now we’ve discovered an area of where Peter and Bev agree and I am the outlier: reflection.
Peter and Bev have rated me as not especially reflective; I’ve given myself the top rating. No-nonsense Bev is almost incredulous. “I just don’t see it,” she shakes her head. Even Peter, always calm and quiet, looks perplexed. My own expression must mirror his. I struggle for words. I am always, always reflecting. How do I explain? Maybe always reflecting doesn’t count. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.
We talk for a few minutes, compromise on a midway point for the question, and move on. 25 years later, I’m still reflecting on that moment.
What I’m not reflecting on is this school year. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Even as I write this I realize that I taught my last class one week ago today. Is that even possible? I have to check the calendar to be sure. Yes. One week ago. Surely that was a lifetime ago? Or at least a few weeks? I knew that time was spooling out unevenly during the school year, but I had honestly hoped that it might straighten out once the chaos of classes ended. Perhaps, I tell myself, this is merely summer time, delightfully different than school-time…but no. I know it’s not. My thoughts spin.
Reflect! I tell myself sternly. It’s important to reflect. I try the exercise Kate Messner suggested for Teachers Write this week: I go outside and breathe deeply. I close my eyes and try to remember a time when I felt peaceful and whole. Just when I am about to give up, the loud voices from my neighbours’ backyard fade and the oppressive heat lifts just a little.
I am on a cliff on the Aran Islands. I am alone. Though I am nervous about it, I have inched my way to the edge and now only the slate gray ocean exists beneath my dangling feet, only the limestone cliff walls fill my peripheral vision. I have never been so completely alone. I breathe with the sea. I breathe in the sea and the wind that slides up beside me. I am alone alone alone. I think of nothing for as long as I can and I watch the water.