“Teachers preserve the past, reveal the present, and create the future.” I have been thinking about this quotation, which was inscribed on a gift by my former student Mark Wesseler (Class of 2001) and its import on my professional life. On our best days, teachers aspire to impart these noble qualities to our students in ways that will reach them, perhaps not in the moment, but in years to come. The texts of Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald pose questions about our purpose, our destiny, our American identity that will always be relevant. The lessons of the past concern us because they plumb our fears and our hopes. They inspire us to dream and recreate the world, a better world.
In many ways, our students reveal the present to us through their “new eyes” in looking at literature from a contemporary and often personal lens. Some of the best discussions I have ever had in class involved looking at a poem through their eyes and their visceral reaction to it. The students discerned the speaker’s tone or emphasized certain diction that mirrored a freshness of approach that revealed that a Wordsworth sonnet could still move readers.
And finally, I have the privilege of witnessing every day the growth of our students as they “strive, to seek, and find” their own destiny. The future is bright for our young men and women who grapple with the present and look to the future. They are prepared through the lessons of the past to succeed in the present and meet their future armed with knowledge and optimism.