Who’s Counting? Another One

Once more with feeling. Do that to me one more time. Once over. Once bitten. Last time around. Last dance. That Morrissey lyric: “This is the last song I will ever sing. No, I’ve changed my mind again. Goodnight, and thank you.” I’m not changing my mind. It’s too late for that noise. Babe, I’m leaving. I must be on my way. Or, I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again. Welcome to the “last” blog entry in my countdown to retirement.

I’m in my classroom this Tuesday morning, perhaps, for the last time ever. If I’m going to make it through all of this music before I leave today, I’m going to have to get this party started. It’s 8:15 in the morning, and the first record on the platter, continuing alphabetically by artist, from Z to A: Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever. I love this record, surprisingly, and I love this human. What a cool kid. It would have been a hoot to have her as a student. Alas–as far as I understand, she was home-schooled. It’s interesting to think about how public education would have changed her. For better, or worse? No matter. It appears that her folks did a first-rate job. Public education should be for everybody, right, that’s the whole damn point. But at the same time, it must be said, public education is not, actually, for everybody. Now there’s a thought with which to begin the day. I think people who bypass public education for religious reasons or because they can afford to send their little people to exclusive private schools are hurting their children and the public good. But I think there are exceptions–students who are truly better served by an alternative. Billie may be one of those. This is a thorny issue into which I am not fully prepared to wade or dive. Not right now.

I’m looking around at my classroom and feeling totally overwhelmed. Where to begin. I need a system. This is insane. I should have hired a crew. The next album on the turntable, Elbow, Flying Dream 1, provides a bit of a balm right now to the craziness ahead. Such a beautiful record.

I’m pulling things of the walls and taking pictures of things I love and trying not to be sentimental. Sometimes it’s really hard–and then attempting to sing along with Elbow in certain moments puts me in dicey territory. Next record: Deep Sea Diver, Impossible Weight. The music today seems chosen for the occasion–but really, I’m just working my way backwards through the alphabet.

I just signed out of Synergy for the very last time. No more attendance. No more record-keeping. No more massive student databases.

Listening to The Dear Hunter, Act IV and Act V, again, appropriate, and Shakespearean. What a brilliant band that no one’s ever heard of. I’ve encountered exactly one person who knew who they were–a pharmacist of all people, working in my local Fred Meyers.

And now is the time to decide what has to come home with me. I’m leaving almost all of the books here. In my own home I know that I will never be at a loss for something to read for the rest of my existence. I’ll cherry pick some really cool things: the poetry mostly. There’s an entire library here about teaching. Do I need these? As much as I have loved Alfie Kohn, and as much as he has completely shaped my teacher brain, I will not likely read him again. Maybe he will be helpful to another teacher? A very tentative maybe. I’m leaving ’em. I’m also looking at shelves of VHS tapes and DVDs. Audio books on CD. All antiquated technology that if not handled properly will end up in a landfill. Do I take these? I can’t bring myself to take them. Again, always the optimist, someone will appreciate them. Someone has a newish DVD player with an HDMI output. My colleague, Sara, won my classroom in a lottery. She’s moving in. She has one of these things, I bet.

The Color Purple quilt
Life of Pi
A gift from a student with a keen sense of humor

There is art on the walls made by students from the last decade, the decade before that, and the one before that. I’m taking pictures of these things. I’m bequeathing this one to my dear friend Jill. She read this out loud to me today and I practically lost it. I’m reading it out loud here, keeping it together.

Art by Andrea Nguyen

I have given up on getting all the way through these record albums today. It’s almost one o’clock now, The Dear Hunter albums are both double records and I am starting to run out of steam. And yet, I might have to be here a while longer. My family brought me a coffee, but are they staying to help? No, they are not. We’ll see if I can get through C in the alphabet: Lucy Dacus, Crowded House, Jonathan Coulton, Elvis Costello, Childish Gambino, and Cheap Trick. Nope. It’s 3:30. I’ve been taking almost everything off the walls. I’m leaving the staples. Sorry, Sara.

I have made my way finally to the file cabinets and I am ruthless. I barely look at the stuff as I chuck it over my shouIder into the recycling bins. The only file folders I keep are for the units I know my friend Cresslyn will teach next year. I put all of these in a special file box labeled “for Cresslyn.” Time passes. I only make it through the Crowded House album, again appropriately, Dreams are Waiting. I should have started this listening project a week earlier. Now I have unfinished business. That’s OK. When I get home: Black Country New Road, black midi, and David Bowie. There have been no artists in my classroom collection whose band name or last name begins with the letter A.

Jill helps me carry boxes out to the car. She is the teacher in the English department who has been with me the longest. She started teaching at Putnam only three or four years after me. For the last several years we have taught right across the hall from each other, keeping each other company, checking in on a daily basis, venting, laughing, helping each other with this or that, problem-solving. I like to borrow things from her, like her broom and dustpan, or her blue painting tape. She has become such an integral part of my day, her presence, her kindness, her cheer, that a day without seeing her or talking to her seems like a total failure of a day. I will need to say more about her. I will need to say more about Cresslyn. I wanted to make a list today of the things I will miss about teaching–and these two incredible people, Jill and Cresslyn, will figure largely into that list. But it’s 4:00 pm. I can’t fit everything into my car. I will have to come back into the building tomorrow–so there will be one last day, a bonus day, a day on which I will pack up the rest of my stuff and make the final list of my teaching career.

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

2 thoughts on “Who’s Counting? Another One

  1. So brave. It took me weeks to clean out my room, maybe because I had a huge corner room, and you know how that goes: you move into a bigger house, you fill it up. Actually, it took me years. I started cleaning out my file cabinets two years before I retired (crap I had hauled from downstate NY in 1985 to Colorado and then in 1988 to upstate NY and amassed from there into 3 full file cabinets and one file drawer).

    I love the album cover “Music to Work or Study By” (it ends with a preposition): the mom looks hovering, pissed, and dubious about her daughter’s efforts and abilities. And the daughter’s apple is on the floor. Gross. Is she going to wash that before she eats it? I also love the plastic film peeling up from the cardboard cover. It’s very symbolic of retirement. I bet it smells musty.

    I hope you have something planned to fill up the vacuum. You can’t avoid at least a little post-partum depression, but it’s nice to have something to look forward to. Camping in Tillamook? The Kraftwerk 3-D Tour at the Arlene Schnitzer (you are so lucky to have a venue called “Schnitzer)? Wu-Tang in Vancouver?

    Spread your wings and fly!

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