“And he threw away his looking-glass…”

Before finally filing your grade sheet away, you take a glance back at your students: the hagglers, the flatterers, folks who can’t spell; the brilliant readers, who see patterns you never imagined; the passionate few, who discover the works of a lifetime; the ghosts, who drift into the classroom with hollow-eyed stares and who float out again just as empty; the religious and the irreligious, who shock each other with their very existence; the lazy, who are stunned when your deadlines disrupt them; and the sensitive poets who wish they were jaded, who work to be altered by nothing at all.

You also remember the doomed. Some, in the end, cry out like Faustus at midnight. Others, too few, clamber like Brunhilde onto the pyre, restoring their honor and earning their human dignity, if never a passing grade.

At the same time, the Christmas cards arrive. Some come from strange new places; most bring news of career advancement and snapshots of happy babies. Your horizon, still full of students, widens well beyond the back rows of any classroom, and you remember why Alcuin wrote these words to King Offa:

Being always eager to carry out your wishes faithfully, I have sent back to you this dear pupil of mine as you asked. Please look after him well until, if God so wills, I come to you myself. Do not let him wander about unoccupied or take to drink. Give him pupils, and give strict instructions that he is to teach properly. I know he has learned well. I hope he will do well, for the success of my pupils is my reward with God.

Alcuin knew: teaching asks more of you than mere lectures, discussions, and hours of rote emendation. The futures of others now fall in your hands. That grade sheet, he’d tell you, is blind to your days of frustration. It recorded the trust that you dared to assume; it’s a plain declaration of hope.

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