I believe in the power of a worn park bench; I believe in the invitation it offers and the challenge it issues. It supports the old, burdened with baggage; invites young lovers walking hand-in-hand, and welcomes parents—the expecting and the harried—who believe in their child’s future. It is the dwelling of daydreams and a home to those who have only the stars for a roof. It never rejects or judges; it simply supports. I have spent a good deal of my life on park benches talking with friends, reading books, and drying tears.
As a teacher, I get to touch the future each day. However there are many days when the future just wants to sit, arms crossed, and not go anywhere. That, along with correcting, planning, and the zillion other details my vocation demands can wear down the bravest soul. It is my husband, also a teacher, who reminds me to sit and rest each day. He understands the danger in becoming too caught up in the minutiae. He sits me down, hands me a book, puts on some music, and forces me to rest.
But I can’t just sit and rest my life away; I need to accept the bench as a guide. Too often, I have closed myself off to others because the timing wasn’t right. The bench is there in any kind of weather. It sits in a pause between moving forward and turning back.
Every day, 110 kids cycle their way into and out of my room. Most have bigger problems in their lives than making sure their thesis statement is clear and concise. My job is holding kids to high standards, but it is also about holding them up during these rocky periods in their lives. Somewhere between the tests, quizzes, projects, and extra-curricular activities, they need a place to pause and rest or else they give up. I am much more fortunate than many of them. I know that at the end of the day I can retreat to a house, a warm meal, and relief. Some of them, though, are heading into a battle zone when they leave me. Many don’t have a home that they can count on and, for some, the only benches in their lives are what they find in the street.
In my six years of teaching, I have seen a fair amount of tears shed during class or after school. It is important that kids see me as a support and not just an authoritarian who dispenses grammatical knowledge. I would be naïve to believe school is their top priority, therefore I try to focus on lasting knowledge in addition to the frameworks. It is my duty to support my students, not judge or reject; they have too many people who already fill that role. Whether through a book I teach, advice I offer, or writing I assign, I hope students learn to seek out and find comfort in park benches throughout their lives.