As Time Goes By

Posted on in On Our Radar by Peter Gavin

A Schoolteacher for 30 Years.
How Did That Happen?


Hard for me to believe that I’ve been a public schoolteacher for 30 years. It doesn’t seem that long ago that, during my student teaching, I stood in front of my class, trying to exhibit my classroom management skills to Rob Moore, my supervising SF State professor. One of the more precocious fourth graders didn’t like the idea of me telling her what to do, and I didn’t like the idea of her not doing it, so she hurled her chair across the room at me. Devastated, and sure my young career was finished, tears welled up in my eyes, and my master teacher took over the class. Rob pulled me aside and talked me off the ledge. I’m not sure he realized it at the time, but he changed my life that day.

I just heard a former fifth grade student was hired as an architect by one of the top firms in the country. Others are doctors, lawyers, chefs, teachers, police officers, contractors, business owners, you name it. Some are fathers, mothers, even a few grandparents. And there’s a handful that never made it this far, exiting this world way too soon.

Nona, my crazy and wonderful Jewish grandmother, used to grab me by the collar, wagging her finger in my face and spitting, calling me a puskidnik and warning me about how fast it all goes. But of course I never took her seriously. She was just a crazy lady with a screwy eye in a leopard coat, full of color and colloquialism, whose sole purpose was entertaining my chuckling friends and me.

The thing is, she was right, and now this is a message I try to pass on to my students. I’m not sure they get it any more than I did when I was their age. And that’s fine; in fact, it’s good. But I also know there will come a time in their lives when, like me, they’ll look back and say, “How the hell did I get here so fast?”

Peter Gavin has taught elementary and middle school since 1985. The recipient of the River of Words national award, he currently teaches eighth grade at Kent Middle School and lives in Novato. His perspective aired on October 16 on KQED-FM.

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