Today is the first day of school. I watched my daughter carefully choose her outfit, style her hair, apply make up, pack her book bag, make sure she had her house key and her lunch. She paused impatiently outside for a picture. She was ready to get the day started, to get seventh grade started.
Exactly one hour earlier I watched my husband do the very same thing--well, minus the makeup--carefully choosing the right bowtie to go with his first day of school outfit. He took coffee and an instant breakfast. His bag was packed with class rosters, music, and lesson plans. (He probably won't have time to eat lunch.)
He is a teacher.
He chooses to go back to school, year after year. For many people, school is just one time in their lives, and when they're done: they're done. For teachers life is measured out in coffee cups and Diet Cokes and the rise and fall of the academic calendar. Richard spends the school year teaching music and his summers playing music, writing music, and writing new lessons, exploring new areas in the world of music that he can share with his students.
What makes teachers return, year after year? If you follow what is going on in the world of education these days, you know it isn't easy. I am reminded of a back-to-school letter I received from an eccentric Headmaster of Grace and St. Peter's School as he outlined the faculty schedule for teacher's meetings and opening day assignments. It began,
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead." (Shakespeare, Henry V)
Rather grisly, yes?
Okay, so maybe it isn't life-and-death, but it is most certainly life: the choice, day after day after day to get up early, work late, skip lunch, bring work home, go to evening and weekend events, and to put the needs of others ahead of your own. As in every profession, some are better than others. But when you have a good teacher, or your child has a good teacher, you know it. And you are grateful. And you carry that experience with you forever.
I attended Westminster Choir College (now a part of Rider University) for my Junior year of college. One vivid memory is participating in the annual commencement service which is held in Princeton University Chapel. You can just imagine the opportunities for pageantry and choral music for such an event. A mainstay of commencement is the singing of the "Anthem of Dedication" by Warren Martin.
Legend has it that Martin, a graduate of the school and longtime faculty member, was asked at the last minute to throw together something for commencement. In his annoyance he made the piece as schmaltzy as possible, thinking they would hate it. In fact, it was received with much acclaim and they have been singing it annually ever since.
As the anthem begins, the combined freshmen, sophomore, and junior classes sing,
"Whom shall we send? And who will go for us?"
The seniors respond in song,
"Here am I, Lord. Send me!"
As I watched my husband get ready this morning, I thought of the many men and women who, every year, step into the breach and say, "Here I am. Send me."
And that, my friends, is dedication.