Larry Efird: Walking to school
At least once every two weeks, a student in my class will ask me if I walk to school. The truth is that I do walk to school every day, as I have for the past 10 years. The reason is pretty simple: I only live one block from the campus — around 200 steps to be exact. It actually would take me longer to get in my car and drive because then I would still have to walk from the parking lot, so walking makes much more sense; plus, it gives me a little bit of exercise as well.
When I tell students that I do, in fact, walk to school, they usually express a sense of disbelief, and invariably respond by saying, “Really? You really walk to school?” Once I have sworn an oath that I perambulate the whole way, they accept my answer, but without fail, the next question they ask is, “Where do you live?” I’m usually a little more vague about that answer, but I tell them I just live “up the street.” The truth is that many of them have figured it out anyway because they’ve seen me mowing my lawn in the summer, or they know my house always flies a green and white “K” flag on Fridays during football season.
Apart from saving gas money and an extra car payment because I don’t have to commute to work every day, I’ve found there are other advantages as well. For starters, I can leave my house later and have an extra cup of coffee every morning, because my walk only takes two minutes, at the most. Another advantage is that if I happen to leave something at home, I can walk home at some point during the day without having to suffer too much of an aggravation or an inconvenience.
Those are the practical reasons I enjoy living so close to the school. But there are other advantages as well. Student athletes, such as the wrestling team or the cross country team, run by my house all year long. Seeing the dedication of so many kids running all over town on hot days, as well as on rainy or cold days, does my heart good.
I can’t help but smile when I think of what great examples they are to their peers, as well as to the entire community, as they show the world their commitment to a personal goal or to their futures by their unyielding discipline. I always feel a sense of pride when I see them, and deep down, feel like they are “my kids” because I teach so many of them. When one of them shouts my name across the street to say “Hello,” it reminds me that my life and my work truly matter.
I used to run myself when I was their age, although I actually hated running around the perimeter of Cannon Mills during track season. But my own experience gives me an appreciation for what these kids do every afternoon once they’re released from school.
I also remember that they are the future. They are what’s still good about America. Sharing the same sidewalks with them makes me realize we’re also sharing a journey, and I am fortunate enough to be on the same path with them at this point in their young lives.
One thing I’ve learned after all these years teaching is that really getting to know a student takes place outside the classroom. They always notice when teachers show up for their ballgames, and most of the time they tell us thanks for coming. Many times they want to know if we’re coming to the games. It’s their subtle way of telling us they want us to be there.
Teaching school is much, much more than standing in front of a room full of teenagers and giving out an enormous amount of information, much of which will soon be forgotten. It’s much more than grading papers and making sure everyone is following the dress code. It’s more about letting kids know that we are walking beside them — and sometimes down the hall, or in my case, up the street.
Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School.