Randy graced our presence in the early 80’s, a time so many have described as the Golden Age, an age, I believe, was as almost as exciting as the reign of Georgia Nelson. Thanks to the inspiring Mike Teitelman, it was a dynamic place to work and play for students and teachers. Dr. Testa, a former choir boy as well as a former altar boy, added so much to Graland’s Lower School.
“On the last day of school, my students took down the giant picture of the Titanic, dusted the ears on Bottom, the stuffed mule’s head hanging above the clock, and cleaned out the desks with a liquid cleaner in a spray bottle while I wept at the back of the room. The classroom’s walls were barren-- with anything that meant anything stacked on a round table.
“Then, it was late August. The janitors had begun to steam the windows and wash windows-- scraping off Scotch tape and the remnants of a battleship, Billy Watson drew with a red crayon in November. Brown cardboard boxes filled with school supplies and textbooks multiplied in the hallways. A memo would come in the mail soon, hoping our summer was a restful one, letting us know the date of our opening faculty meeting. Another memo, to which a class roster was attached, had arrived-- a roster of imps, devils, and rogues waiting to have their souls filled with magic.
“I teach eight and nine-year-olds for a living. The best part of being a teacher is having the summer to yourself. It’s a time to dawdle, regroup, and contemplate. I spent the summer observing my country. I didn’t actually plan it; it just happened. It’s the curse of having studied acting-- Stanislavski-style-- as an undergrad.
“I visited Philadelphia and Valley Forge, Pa.; Atlantic City; Manhattan; Danbury, Conn.; Creede, Co., trying to figure out (while visiting friends and relatives) if anything occurring in my classroom is connected with life in the heartland.
“I went to a video arcade in a shopping mall outside of Philadelphia. I watched packs of suburban children dole out quarters in a hallway filled with malevolent green and blue lights and sounds from the underside of hell. I tried to eat dinner at my parents’ house with Family Feud and reruns ofThe Jeffersons babbling in the background.
“I took pictures for my classroom of workmen putting the finishing touches on the nuclear reactor at Limerick, Pa. . . I tried to read the National Enquirer and the Rocky Mountain News (“Toddler Crushed by Bulldozer, OK”. . . “Pair in Mob-Style Shooting Surrender; Judge Nixes Bail” to no avail.
“I went to an amusement park where obese parents in plastic sandals and Dukes of Hazzard T-shirts dragged around snot-nosed children eating melting ice cream cones. I watched fireworks on the Fourth in Creede from the roof of an orange Volkswagen camper with two children of a good friend. And I danced the Lindy under paper lanterns at the grounds of Wooster School in Danbury-- at a wedding straight from a Cheever short story.
“The times are nefarious. I spent the summer wondering if one year with 19 third-graders can possibly drown out the thunderous vulgarity of life in these United States. When I ponder the droves of indolents trooping up and down Atlantic City’s Boardwalk with moist quarters in their chubby hands and the non-stop patter of AM radio and daytime television, I wonder if teaching isn’t like rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
“Does anything happening in classrooms these days give children the capacity to be discerning, to sense beauty and passion, to love words, and to relish silence? Does teaching matter anymore?
“It has to matter. My summer in the heartland has shown me how the die is cast. There is a blanket of vulgarity and trendy mindlessness sweeping over this country with the fury of a nuclear holocaust. It stifles our children and makes the classroom a crypt -- a void where once it was possible to make magic.
“With September’s arrival, teachers must re-acquaint themselves with the tools of their craft. Excellence, rigor, perfection, imagination, humor, and style belong to teaching like no other profession. With them, a teacher creates moments that defy description-- moments that confront children with the extraordinary, the profound, the astonishing, and the mysterious-- moments that will make for a thoughtful, wise life in whatever chosen field.
“Webster defines a moment as ‘a minute portion of time; an instant.’ He also defines it in terms of importance as ‘in influence or effect; an essential or constituent element.’ All of which gives credence to an impish little statement once uttered by an acting teacher of mine: ‘Remember, a moment can last a lifetime.’
“Late August is a time to reaffirm what matters in teaching, what an education can be, and how profound it is. The moment is here. The rest is silence.”