Of Calendars and Classrooms

In November a friend and I were talking about something that had happened a few months earlier, and I said it had happened "last year." She corrected me; it had happened in March. But to me, that IS "last year" -- last school year.

I keep track of time by watching my houseplants and my classroom. This system isn't much different from watching the sun and the stars or tracking the cycles of the moon, but Hallmark doesn't make a calendar for it.

In August I decide which plants on the patio will go to school to soften the cinderblock walls and vinyl blinds. I want my students' first impression of the classroom to be positive. When they arrive, I can see they've gone though something similar, choosing haircuts and shirts for maximum effect the first day of school. We begin.

By late September we have a routine. I turn the plants so they don't grow lopsided, and try not to overwater them. I fret because my window faces north, so my plants get no direct sunlight and must grow on the strength of fluorescent tubes. My students and I know each other and have hit a stride. A variety of activities keeps us from being lopsided, and they let me know if I'm giving too much homework. I schedule a field trip. We continue.

By November I'm trimming the occasional leaf from a plant which is not doing well. Some of my students likewise have grown lax until just before a test or just after I phone home. Attendance slips; a few students quit. I fret bout that, too: try as I might, the fluorescence of a classroom sometimes just isn't enough. We count the days until vacations.

I like to plant an amaryllis just after Thanksgiving. My spirits rise with the bud in December as it pushes its way to yardstick height and blooms flamboyantly in January. About this time the semester ends. Seniors who graduate at midyear happily finish their exams, promise to return for Prom, and walk through the snow to their jobs or first college classes. January: half the year still to go.

February and March are a long tunnel. The sun rises after school starts and sets before I finish grading papers in the afternoon. I water my plants less because they've almost stopped growing. I almost feel dormant myself. It takes longer to plan lessons, write tests, or grade essays. My students are enthusiastic about basketball games, not assignments. I stare out the window, longing for a crocus. We persevere.

The time from Spring Break to the end of the year is remarkably compressed. The sun appears earlier and stays longer. The plants need more water and, with the prodding of some plant food, send up a few new leaves. Nervous students ask for help after class. Seniors sign yearbooks "Friends 4 Life." Engagements and college scholarships are announced.

June, and the year's over, celebrated with "Pomp and Circumstance" in a hot gym, smiles, hugs, photos, good-byes. My classroom now summer-silent, I return my plants to the patio. They droop for a day or two as they adjust to natural light and breezes. After a good rain, though, they launch into summer growth. It takes me a while to adjust, too. I take it easy a few days, building the energy that will carry me into summer projects. About July I begin to notice things I'd like to try next fall. I watch the sky for rain, tell time by the sun, and ignore my wall calendar altogether.

When the chrysanthemums bloom, we'll start again.