Faculty Blog – March 2017

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The March Faculty Blog – In Memory of Amy Kaur

“How Much Time Do We Have Left?”

Matthew M. James

B.A. Baylor University

History and English Faculty

Vanguard College Preparatory School

This is a recent letter from Mr. James to the Kaur Family, that the Vanguard Family wanted to share with others.

Recently I have been reminded of a piece of literature that I studied in college and have taught to my middle school students in the past and present. William Wordsworth, one of the British Romantic “Lake Poets,” composed the poem about a field of daffodils that he witnessed while on a walking tour through the lake district.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The obvious implication is that Wordsworth found inspiration and even hope in a dark world from the memory of that field of flowers, and that he returned to it in his memory at times of great sorrow, complacency, or simply contemplation. As I have recently sat in contemplation, considering the unanswerable questions of why, I remembered this poem and Wordsworth’s inspiration.

Over the course of my years in teaching, I have had the opportunity to see students at their best and their worst inside of my classroom. I’ve seen the smile of a student who finally understands an intricacy of English grammar after months of struggling to comprehend it. I’ve seen the determination of a student not only to write an essay to receive a high grade, but also to impress me. I’ve seen the despair of a student who forgot to answer all of the questions on one page of a test and witnessed the immense disappointment of a student who studied for hours and still scored well below the desired grade.

However, while I am always excited to see and always driven to help my students succeed inside of the classroom, the most important moments that I’ve witnessed about my students have happened outside of the classroom: one student helping another, afraid of heights, to scale a granite mountain, a group of students bonding across grade level and social structure over lunch, and one particular student, stuck with a single line of dialogue, resigning herself to a minor role in a one-act play, while desiring to be the star.

“How much time do we have left?” She repeated that line for the hundredth time in one-act rehearsal, each time with a more dramatic eye roll. After considering dropping out to focus on more important things such as her studies, she dug in and became all the more dedicated, despite her tears at being corrected and her desires to do so much more and be so much more than this minor character with its one line.

That one line in her oh-so-dramatic voice has been echoing in my mind over the past difficult days. In many ways this student had no idea that this line would be so compelling, so ironic, and so pertinent. In many ways it became the message of the play, forcing the audience to consider the excruciating passage of time during a test, a constant reminder of a ticking clock signaling the end, a fast paced rush of scribbling and flipping of pages to put down as much as possible before the last tick.

I believe that she understood the symbolic meaning behind her line more than anyone. Her kindness, empathy, and devotion to her work, friends, and family signaled her understanding that the time that we have should not be wasted but used to honor and benefit those around us. Her refrain will forever be a reminder in my mind to refocus on what is important in my profession, not necessarily the ins and outs of classroom management and the finer details of English grammar, but the people in my room, seeking guidance, respect, and identity.

For me, Wordsworth’s field of daffodils is not a literal place filled with personified florae, but a symbolic one filled with people who have gone before me and taught me how to use the time I’ve been given on this earth: my grandfather who taught me tenderness, my high school friend who imparted lessons on devotion, my father who instilled patience, and now my dear student and friend who taught me kindness with every smile and glimmer of joy behind her eyes. These and others make up my field of flowers, joined most recently by a gorgeous daffodil, glimmering in the sun, in no way a minor character, but a bright star standing out from the constellation, saying no throwaway line, but imparting a most important lesson. I hope to someday join them, having used my time still left to me to instill their lessons and characteristics into my students, my friends, my family, perfect strangers, and myself. That is what Amy did with her time. I hope you will do the same.

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