04 October 2019

Today I Re-Learn The Lesson That You Can't Go Home Again

View from the school in SF

For the first time in seven months I went back to where I worked for seven and a half years. You can’t go home again. I had lunch with Sendy, my former boss and the best boss I ever had. She’s leaving the school next week. The school director is leaving soon thereafter. Half the people who were there when I left have gone. The schedule has been changed. The school has gotten a fresh coat of paint. Tables, desks and shelves have been moved. None of the students who were there when I left are still at the school. It's the exact same place I left in March only totally different.

The school is right by Fisherman’s Wharf. That area hasn’t changed much in seven months — nor in seven years, for that matter — but it looks different, feels different, smells different, from when I worked there.

The school was full of ghosts. Including mine. Ghosts of teachers who entertained, bored, inspired, impressed, depressed, edified and mollified students since the school opened 12 years ago. Only one person working at the school when I arrived there in July, 2011 is still there. ESL schools are transitory. Students come for no more than a year, most for no more than six months and many for as little as two weeks. Teachers and staff come and go too. This is especially true in places like San Francisco where people soon figure out that you need a substantial income to live in the city.

When I was a young man I was a newspaper reporter and having the time of life. I seemed made for the work. I was excelling at it and happy. Then I got a stupid idea of leaving journalism to work in Sacramento for the student lobby. I wasn’t cut out for the work and left after a year and began wondering, flailing around in life easing my journey through drugs and alcohol. After six aimless years I went into teaching and there found a career. I was a public school teacher, in a middle school no less. I was happy again although the pressure was enormous, the pay barely adequate and the slings and arrows stung. Eventually when administrators seemed to turn on me, I couldn’t take it anymore and segued into teaching ESL to adults. The first permanent job in the field I landed was, for much of the time, heaven on Earth. The students were nice and liked me, my bosses were nice and liked me, my co workers were nice and liked me. It was all grand fun and to top it off I was damn good at it. The only drawback was the hideous commute that grew worse and worse with each passing year then with each passing month then with each passing week and at the end with each passing minute. I was at retirement age anyway so last March I said my farewells.

I look back on my time as a reporter as one of the best and certainly most fulfilling periods of my life but I suffer horrible pangs of regret when I contemplate how I abandoned it. So i my tenure teaching ESL in San Francisco is the only work experience that I look back on with fond memories. It was a job to be sure but it was so damn much fun to show up there and be greeted by darlings from all over the world. I took the job seriously and one aspect of it that I took seriously was that it should be — while students improved their English — damn good fun. For students and for me. I found that students learned better and I taught better if we were having a few yuks along the way. Students bought into it. My classes were big happy families. Meanwhile I was working for people who respected and supported me. These were people who were on my side and not incidentally they knew how to have a good time too. Who wouldn’t miss that?

I was very happy to see the school again as well as a few of the people I worked with, most especially my boss. But it made me wistful and a little sad. Something was gone. When we return to old haunts or visit old companions there is a melancholy mixed with the cheer. Nostalgia tinged with sorrow. It’s never the same. Parts of that experience have died, others have changed. There are people and places that we will never see again. Ever. And there people and places that are unalterably changed.

Last June I took a part time at a nearby ESL school teaching one class in the mornings. It’s a 15 minute walk from home, so there’s no commute to deal with. Teaching one class is easy. The school is small so the classes are small and thus there are few papers to grade. My part-time gig takes up just a few hours a day and the money earned goes to future travels. My work in the Summer funded a forthcoming trip the missus and I are about to take to New York.

The job is nice. The people there are nice. The students are nice. It’s an easy gig. It’s not the same as my time in SF but it’s okay. I’m never going to get too attached to the school which is good, because it means I’ll never have to deal with being sad after I leave it.

Goddamn, I was lucky to work at a place that today is making me feel plaintive. Damn lucky. I guess that's what you take out of "going home again" you can see how good you once had it.

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