I started my teaching career walking on the oiled plank floors of my classroom. My students wrote in composition books at their wooden desks and brought me apples. In the last years of my career I still found occasional apples on my desk, but they were dwarfed by a huge one that had been bitten.

So much had changed. I now used Smart Boards instead of chalkboards made from slate dug from the earth. I tracked student data with technology instead of with letters in a grade book. And the skin shades of my students now reminded me of a bakery display of rye breads—light, medium, and dark—along with the sourdoughs.

For three decades, I had kept current with the changing jargon of the trade: outcome based education, right-brain thinking, value-added analysis. I had written lesson plans and evaluations to fit each era.

But my metaphor for teaching hadn’t changed; it had grown stronger. My students were my books, and I read them like I would read literature:

    • finding how the parts (a sudden drop in grades, a slump of the shoulders, a new flicker of interest) fit into the whole (the contexts of the hallways, the lunchroom, the streets, and home);
    • detecting whether undertones (what was not said) matched the overtones (what was said);
    • wondering about students and asking questions instead of pronouncing judgements;
    • reading different genres (high and broken spirits, rapid and reluctant learners) with different strategies.

And I increased my fluency, reading most students faster and more ably each decade.

On my last day of school, just before I turned my Apple back to the office, I received my final apple from a student, the one who had been my hardest read all year.