I’ve been teaching ceramics at Nauset Regional High School for 20 years in Room C104. It has an 18-foot ceiling and 18 working potter’s wheels. My room is 70 feet long and 30 feet wide. Narrow floor-to-ceiling windows mark all four corners; the shafts of light they provide are its pillars of support. It is a communal creative space, a think tank, a music-filled safe haven for makers — a true makerspace.
I heard it was once an auto body shop, which might account for the holes in the floor where the hydraulic lifts must have been. It came with the ghost of Carol Potoff, the vivacious teacher who preceded me. An avid crafter and a fan of glitter yarn, feathers, and beads, she made magic wands for her students. I heard that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer she shaved her head in this room with her students around her.
Carol died the same year I was hired to fill her big shoes. I still feel her looking over my shoulder when I open a warm glaze kiln. She was very tall. Last year’s custodian told me he smells her perfume when he cleans at night. We agree it smells like mango.
This place of memories, C104, is marked for demolition. The high school is getting a big upgrade, and my room will become double-decker state-of-the-art universal classrooms. The ceramics room will be relocated to the other side of campus — with state-of-the-art everything. I’m sure it will be beautiful, but it will not be this.
I have roughly 150 students a year. I teach three 80-minute classes a day. All of my classes are mixed grade-level. Timid frozen freshmen go to the bathroom in pairs. Sophomores start to socialize outside their circle. Juniors try hard to find their voices. Seniors — they are the cool kids. They create the baseline for good behavior and confidence, as well as being the most articulate and helpful. They clean anything I ask them to. They say “Thank you” at the end of every class. They are ready to help any underclassman in a hands-on way. They make eye contact. Simply put, they set the bar.
I ask the seniors for feedback on all kinds of things. I told them I was going to be writing this essay and asked them to talk about what makes the class of 2022 unique.
“We didn’t even know what Covid was when we entered high school,” said one senior. “Then, all of a sudden, we were locked down and completely remote. I was making my own food, taking naps, and learning at my own pace. I liked it.”
“I didn’t like being remote at all,” said another. “I didn’t learn a thing — wait, not true. I did learn that I like being in school. I realized I am not an introvert like I thought I was. I really like people.”
I asked, “How was applying to college?”
“It was a big headache,” I was told. “We were in competition with all the kids who took a year off. There were so many fewer spots available, and the competition was stressful. Many students didn’t get in where they wanted to go.”
“Covid hit all of our families,” said another senior, “making school much harder to afford.”
“What was the upside of all of this?” I asked.
“I think we had it easier because teachers were just happy that we were showing up. There was a lot less work and less pressure academically.”
“I think we are a class that is chill and not filled with drama. We are accepting of whatever anyone wants. We have been through it, all of it, together.”
“We’ve been through the everything.”
It’s true. The class of 2022 has been the class of the everything. The last time I saw their faces without masks, they were sophomores. They have adapted with every turn — and turn we did. They are go-with-the-flow, you-do-you people, a benefit of experiencing the everything.
Over 4,000 students have moved through this old auto body shop over the past 20 years. It is a carnival of souls, a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, a pair of boots I have traveled far in. We have co-taught.
The building is graduating with them, and so is their principal. Next year, Vice Principal Pat Clark will be the principal, and our building will go into phase 1 of a massive construction project.
“Dr. Ellsasser has been your principal the whole time,” I said. “How has that been?”
“He has been kind and tried to do some nice things, like a no-homework policy and replacing detention with an online course,” came the answer. “His heart has been in the right place. He, too, has had to deal with the everything.”
With the new campus, this room, too, will become a ghost. The class of 2022 will be the last class to have been held by it all four years.
The seniors leave school early — a month before the rest of us. We still feel their presence in the empty seats. The room feels even bigger without them. We will look to the juniors to lead. They will say “Thank you” at the end of class. They will guide the less frozen freshmen and the overly social sophomores. They will set the new bar. They will look me in the eye when I tell them they have become the cool kids.