Most people go to Hawaii for the climate. Some go for the surf.
George and Decima Webber are going to skip school.
"I think if he heard the school bells in September, he would die," says Decima Webber, fondly patting her husband's knee, as she explained why they plan to spend early September in the 50th state.
Her husband, 66-year-old George T. Webber, is retiring, reluctantly, from the teaching post he has held at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria since 1965. As Webber finishes his final two months of teaching American government, the thought of standing idly by when the students begin classes next fall appears to have a melancholy effect.
"I love my students," says Webber softly, seated by his wife in their elegant Fairfax County home. "I think sometimes they've kept me alive."
The feeling is mutual.
Several of Webber's ex-students are organizing a party to honor the one teacher they claim has immeasurably enriched their lives. A reception is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. this Sunday in the T.C. Williams cafeteria, where hundreds of Webber's friends, current and former students and Alexandria city officials are expected.
A good deal of the organizing has been done by Joseph H. Bourdow, a 1969 graduate of T.C. Williams who now owns an advertising business in Richmond.
"It's hard to put in words," Bourdow says of his feelings about his ex-debate coach and humanities teacher. "When I think of all the people I've known, one person stands out above the rest, and that is Mr. Webber."
Webber, who was told about the party several weeks ago, says he was surprised that his students would do this for him.
"This kind of knocked my off my feet," says Webber, shaking his head. "Although I've had some of the finest students you ever laid eyes on, I never thought that they'd go this far."
Webber shouldn't have been surprised.
He admits that his mailbox usually is stuffed with letters from former students who feel obligated to keep him posted on their progress. And every spring about this time, the Webbers begin receiving wedding invitations as fomrer students, one by one, begin to tie the knot.
"That's starting to get to me financially," Webber says jokingly.
His former students say they feel almost duty-bound to stay in touch with Webber, who has an uncanny knack for remembering names and anecdotes long after his charges have graduated.
"He likes to get us back to talk to his classes," Bourdow reports with a laugh. "Especially while you're in college . . . to be an example to his present students."
Webber grew up in Yazoo, Miss., where he attended parochial schools. He spent one year at the University of Illinois and eventually graduated from Xavier College in New Orleans.
After five years in the Army during World War II, Webber was discharged at Fort Belvoir and moved to Alexandria with his wife. As a black teacher, he was unable to find work in Alexandria's segregated school system. He taught in District and Leesburg schools until 1965, when he joined the first integrated faculty in Alexandria.
During 30 years in education, Webber has observed changes both in schools and in students.
"There was a time when it was a real thrill to get up in the morning and go to school," Webber recalls. "It is still a pleasure, but it is not quite the same. Students today don't study as much as they once did."
But his major concern is the fear many teachers have about being sued by parents or students - a problem teachers' groups say is becoming increasingly troublesome. In fact, many teachers say a major reason they join teachers' groups is to get liability insurance offered through the groups.
"You have to be very careful today about everything you do," says Webber sadly. "There are a lot of hungry lawyers out there."
Still, Webber is obviously fond of his students, and says the greatest reward of teaching is watching his students grow up.
"The most interesting thing is watching what these students have been able to accomplish," Webber says. "There are so many who went on to be lawyers and doctors and are in business for themselves. . .
"One day a T.C. Williams phys ed teacher, who was once a student of mine, came up to me and said, 'I know you don't remember this, but one . . . you told me I was college material. I had never dreamed of going to college before that, but here I am, a college graduate and a teacher."
"That's why I go back to each 10-year reunion," Webber says with a grin.
Despite his impending retirement, Webber warns that students -- and educators -- have not heard the last of him.
"I plan to substitute whenever I can," Webber says. "And I may do some writing and talking about education. I've always been outspoken about things, and now I will be completely free to criticize what is wrong with schools."
As he approaches retirement, Webber tries to describe his philosophy of teaching.
"I guess my motto has always been to inspire the students to learn," Webber says. "I spend equally as much time trying to inspire them as I do teaching about the subject.
"Once you inspire them to learn the battle is over."
Bourdow agrees. "I call him a master teacher, for lack of a better word. He always seemed like somebody from the old school who just made you want to learn."