Tag Archives: career teacher

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.

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Who’s Counting? One

June 18, 2022

Looking out for number one. It takes one to know one. One loves one’s BBC. A Room of One’s Own. One step at a time. One giant step. One step ahead. All in one breath. If it’s not one thing it’s another one thing. One thing leads to another. It’s all one, baby. It’s a three-day weekend before the last ONE, my last work day of the school year, the last public school day of my career. I’m getting a head start on this one because I know, that between spinning the remaining records in my classroom music library and cleaning and packing and boxing and cleaning and packing and boxing, I will have precious little time to write on Tuesday. And I will likely be somewhat of an emotional wreck.

I found myself awake at 5 in the morning today. Couldn’t get back to sleep. I’m excited for my retirement party this afternoon, maybe that’s what woke me and made it difficult to go back. But there was a change already in the way my body responded to not being able to sleep when I know I should be sleeping. Usually, that feeling is stressful–that constantly looking at the clock to see how much time has passed, the fretting over not being able to get enough rest required to get through the day, bargaining a trade-off between a little more sleep, a few more snoozes, and no shower, no shaving, cereal instead of eggs, anything that might squeeze out a bit more time for z’s. This morning I thought to myself, I can’t get back to sleep–and I smiled.

So what are we writing about today on this third calendar day before the very last day? One of the things I hoped to do before I was done with the countdown to retirement was to make a list (I love making lists) of the things I wouldn’t miss about teaching in a public high school and the things I would miss very much. So as not to end on a downer, I thought it would be appropriate to list those things I would NOT miss first, a kind of ten things I hate about teaching–or rather (because I have never found myself hating the work that I do), a list of my ten very least favorite things about the profession.

I will NOT miss:

  1. Managing student behavior–in all of its ugly variations: listen while others are talking, don’t throw shit, clean up after yourself, keep your hands to yourself, use classroom appropriate language, use respectful language, respect this space and things that don’t belong to you, put garbage in the garbage, put recycling in the recycling, show up on time, use the time you have now to do the thing you’re being asked to do now, no, you can’t fall asleep here, don’t line up at the door, put away your phone, take the earbuds out, put away your phone, take the earbuds out, put away your phone, put away your phone. I have always understood this stuff to come with the territory, to be part of the job–but it’s not why I got into the game and has always been my least favorite part of the gig.
  2. Hall passes, generally, but specifically, Mr. Jarmer, can I use the restroom? Now? Happily, I will never again give anyone permission or deny anyone permission to go to the restroom.
  3. Grading. I hope never to grade anyone ever again for anything. It has forever been for me the most frustrating and unresolved dichotomy of the work—grading and learning have almost nothing to do with one another. And let’s lump into the bargain the age-old phenomena of grade-grubbing. Mr. Jarmer, I need an A in this class. Okay, why are you telling me about this?
  4. Student growth goals. ‘Nuff said.
  5. The dizzying and frenetic pace that must be sustained from one day to the next. My general modus operandi has always been that of a chicken without a head. Too much to do and not enough time to do it–ALL THE TIME.
  6. The pressure, either real or imagined, to be good, a good person, always, in every situation. Teachers, while often trashed publicly, are expected to be almost saintly in their benevolence, their equanimity, their unequivocal acceptance and love for the children in the community. It happens that, because I tend toward altruism and friendliness for other human beings, and I genuinely like young people, I strive to be kind and compassionate with my students. But there are limits to my capacity, for kindness especially, in the face of ugliness, mean spiritedness, apathy, indifference, willful ignorance, and stupidity. I will not miss that necessity, felt on a near daily basis for the last 33 years, to hold my tongue.
  7. Self Censorship. On a similar note, in a professional capacity, there have always been aspects of my identity that I could never share–and for good reason, I think. But the wish to be authentic with students always falls short when you realize there are things that you can’t or shouldn’t talk about. Some people claim that teaching is an apolitical act. That is fundamentally false–but still, to be open with students about one’s politics or religious views is pretty much verboten. I have been for the last thirty years a closeted atheist and super ambiguous perhaps about my bleeding heart liberalism. And yet–I have never encountered (or taught) a piece of literature worth reading and studying that had a conservative or fascist bent, nor have I ever found a work of literary art that was somehow indifferent to ideals of justice or ethics. Literary art is ubiquitously liberalizing. The accusation that I was teaching with a liberal agenda has only been made to me once in an entire career, when in reality (or if I was being truly honest and authentic), that accusation could have been made every day. The misunderstanding and abuse of the word “liberal” in our culture and in our school system has always baffled me. Just look up the damn word, and tell me if it is not something worth aspiring to.
  8. The never-ending trends of educational reform that are, in reality, anything but reform, almost always delivered top-down and rarely by people inside actual classrooms. My dear colleague, Mr. Jeremy Shibley, before he retired half way through this school year, wrote a letter to the staff in which he listed almost every reform initiative he could remember from his 34 years. It was a dizzying list–and perhaps the most significant takeaway might be that none of these efforts really transformed what and how we taught in any substantive way. Teachers always have done and will continue to do the thing they know is best for their students, and through self-reflection and in collaboration with others they will find new and better ways to “reform” their practice, education trends and buzzwords and initiatives be damned.
  9. Lock-down drills. It’s hard to know where to begin on this one. If you would have told me in 1989 that in the not-so-distant future there would be a spate of active shooters invading grade schools, middle schools, and high schools for the purpose of massacring children and teachers, I would have thought you were insane. And now that insanity is a reality–and nothing brings it home faster than a lock-down drill. Nothing is more out of place and wrong in a public school than the necessity of teaching children how to hide in the dark away from doors and windows, be quiet for a very long time, stay off their phones, and, in the event that a shooter enters their classroom, how to throw staplers and chairs and tables at the assailant. And nothing is more stupid and dangerous and deranged than our society’s love of the gun and its inability or unwillingness to keep military style weapons out of the hands of 18 year old civilians who are so lost and nihilistic and amoral as to see this kind of death and destruction as their only way forward. I have never felt unsafe in my school. Never. But I have lost hours upon hours of sleep morbidly imagining the worst case scenario. And at work I have found myself obsessing over locked doors; my classroom has two points of possible entry–and outside one of those doors, a staggering FOUR other doors that potentially lead to my room and my students.
  10. On a much lighter note: The last thing I’m not going to miss? Administrators who run meetings with slideshow projections that are impossible to read.

Well, then, if you’d like to see the 10 things I will indeed miss about teaching at a public high school, I think I’ll have to ask you to come back tomorrow. This first list ran away from me. It would be too much to ask of you to hang in there for another 1500 words. And, because I haven’t written the next 1500 words yet, too much to ask of myself as well. Until tomorrow, or the next day, or Tuesday, the last day, cheers.

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Who’s Counting? Three

One is the loneliest number–so say Three Dog Night. However, three (the pop rock trio must have known), is a magical number. It’s lucky. Good things come in threes. Three Dog Night. Rush. The Police. Three times the charm. Three bears. The father, son, and the holy ghost. Mind, body, spirit. Three is time-tied: beginning, middle, and end, or past, future, and present, or birth, life, and death. You’ve got three guesses and three wishes. Three strikes and you’re out. Three sides of a triangle. The perfect number. And I am three work days away from retirement from 33 years in public education, an entire career teaching English Language Arts in the same school, the school that also happens to be my alma mater, the school where my own son currently finishes up his 10th grade year.

So here we are, counting down the days, keeping a little record of those days in the blogosphere, administering finals to my remaining groups of sophomores, recovering from mild but persistent side-effects of my second booster vax, listening to all the records in my classroom collection backwards alphabetically, and trying to finish up all of the things on my to-do list: grading finals, submitting final grades, and packing up for moving out.

We begin the day at the letter M, spinning the most recent offering from one of the most prolific bands in contemporary rock, The Mountain Goats. Three full studio albums in one year, by my count. This one, the appropriately titled “Dark In Here,” is the soundtrack during the 3rd period final, my preparation period, where I am wrapping up the recording of finals from the previous two days and finding an opportunity, hopefully, to start going through and recycling “the files,” three decades worth of paper things across 9 gigantic and seem-bursting file cabinet drawers.

These file cabinets have been mostly stagnant now going on three years. Teachers are generating less paper. Handouts are often digital or reproduced in miniature for minimum paper waste or for pasting handouts and various literary goodies inside of composition notebooks for annotation and response. And last year, during distance learning, in large part continuing through this year, nearly everything has been delivered in a digital format. I predict soon that we will see a paperless classroom, but for now, here’s three decades worth of paper that now needs to be recycled. Except for this one: the one that contains all the journals and notebooks I have kept through almost an entire career.

Yes, it’s true that when I started teaching, teachers did not have a computer in the classroom. All of my lesson plans were handwritten inside of spiral notebooks. For years I did this, often scripting a lesson word-for-word by hand in what used to be a very neat and legible print. I do not think I want to trash these notebooks. I’m not sure why and I will probably regret it as I cart them home and then attempt to find a place to store them until I die. Generally speaking, I have difficulty getting rid of these kinds of artifacts, things that I have created in words or in art. I’ve got a novel I wrote by hand in the 6th grade. I’ve got fake album covers for fantasy rock bands I created around the same era. What is up with that? I rarely look at them–every once in a long while, mostly, by accident when I am rearranging things inside the basement “scary room.” Why keep them? I have kept most things I have ever written, as I see them as a kind of photo album of my brain in its development over time. And I guess that’s interesting to me. Beyond pure photographic or biological evidence, it is proof of my existence.

Next up moving backwards alphabetically, I’m spinning Mitski, Laurel Hell, in the minutes before another group of 10th graders arrive for their Romeo and Juliet semester final.

And here they are! A music video of a rap that covers the entire story of Romeo and Juliet replete with quotes from the play intermingled with the students’ own clever rhymes and hip-hop moves–clocking in at about seven and a half minutes; a one pager that asserts that Shakespeare’s play romanticizes suicide; a symbolic interpretation using a paper mache rose balancing precariously on a triangular base; an essay that applies Freud’s psychoanalytic approach to the tragic heros, a beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully defended recreation of the death scene, and other meticulously arranged articulations of the learning from Shakespeare’s most famous love story. With regards to the art, in any other year I would be saving the best ones for next year’s classroom decor, using them as examples of great work for the incoming students–but this year, in an almost heartbreaking way, I asked them all to take their projects home. Which brings me to another aspect of the end of my term here in the schoolhouse. What do I do with the projects I have hanging currently on my classroom walls from students through three decades? My hope is that one of my colleagues will want to hang on to some of this brilliant stuff, some of which dates back all the way to the 1990’s. I can’t be taking it home with me, although, I must say, in a couple of cases, I’m seriously thinking about it.

And as the half day ends, the rest of the day is now open for knocking off the items on the to-do list. There are no records in my classroom collection by artists that begin with the letter L, so while I get a little bite to eat and rest up a bit from that last energetic group of 10th grade final projects, I’m heading to Kansas for their most recent studio album, an album I find almost as captivating and engaging as ever I found Leftoverture or Point of No Return: The Absence of Presence. Kind of a dorky title, I know, but it’s a super strong record from the classic prog band. Guitar solos! Odd time signatures! Rock and roll fiddle! and Tom Brislin on keyboards and songwriting–go ahead, look him up. You won’t be sorry.

Fourth period reflections, done. Fourth period Romeo and Juliet projects, done.

Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee, is today’s fourth album to spin on this third day away from retirement. As soon as this last song is over I’ve got to visit the library to swap a bar code or two or three in exchange for my ratty, teacher annotated copies of books I’ve been teaching these last couple of decades. Until I return, here’s some eye candy for the ears, today’s playlist:

Mission accomplished. It’s almost 3 o’clock already. I’ve got a drumming gig tonight at the very wine bar at which I will host my retirement shindig this weekend. A bunch of colleagues are getting together after work for drinks. I won’t have time to join them before I have to head out with my drums, and I’m kind of bummed about that. It’s another one of those things that I don’t want to miss. There’s only so much time in which to do all the things. Some things you gotta skip. But even though I’ve had time today to get started putting things in boxes and recycling the prodigious content of those filing cabinets, I have not even started. Something there is that doesn’t want to start packing. I’m not sure what this means.

That’s all for now, until tomorrow!

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Who’s Counting? Five

The side effects from my second booster lingered all the way through the day yesterday, so that by the time I went to bed, I felt worse than I had all day. After another bout with some chills and uncontrollable shaking, another somewhat feverish night’s sleep, I wake up feeling almost normal on this fifth day from the end of my teaching career and retirement.

Today’s schedule looks pretty cush. First period final exam, where students are sharing their final Romeo and Juliet projects and doing some reflective writing on the semester, then another final exam period for which I will have no students, because, as we found out in our last installment of the countdown, my seniors have already flown the coop. And a half day of school means that the entire second half of the day can be spent grading finals, cleaning up, and packing up.

And there will be lots of music. First up: Steven Wilson, To The Bone, mastered at 45 rpm, which, as I understand it, is better–albeit, a pain in the keister with a belt drive turntable. First world problem. I don’t know why all my Steven Wilson records ended up in the classroom. Maybe I felt they had been previously unappreciated and underplayed while they were at home.

First period: saw some one pagers, some beautiful artwork, a newspaper article about the troubles in Verona, a rap video, and a filmed reenactment of the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet–lines memorized, complete with an acrobatic and athletic climb up to the balcony via a basketball hoop (wrong scene) and a stage kiss. Juliet was played by a boy wearing a wig. On the one hand, a brave move, but on the other–not nearly as brave as it might have been, you know, if R & J were reimagined as a same sex couple. I told the whole class at the end how awesome they were and that I couldn’t imagine a better last group of 10th graders to work with. They were smiling. Romeo said he was tearing up–but I think he was pulling my leg.

Second period: I found myself making a collage photo of all of my previous school I.D. cards and a few old photos taken at work here and there that survived and were languishing inside a drawer in my office. The first card comes from the 2005-2006 school year. Maybe that was the first year we were issued official I.D. cards? I would think, that if they existed, I would have kept them, but who knows. Maybe it takes about 15 years for one to realize that a kind of history is taking shape. It’s equally possible that we just didn’t have cards. Imagine a time when you were not expected to have an I.D. card inside of a public school. And the last card is from 2015. I think that after that point, the school-year specific I.D. card went by the wayside, replaced by a photo I.D. keycard that would just never get swapped out. I’ve had that I.D. card now for years and I really dislike the photo. It’s not present in my collage.

More music: Villagers, Fever Dreams. One of my favorite new discoveries of the year, on which you will find perhaps the most cheerful pop song in recent memory: “So Simpatico.” I bet you can’t listen to this thing without smiling. Vinyl flavor: forest green. Next up, Tune Yards, Sketchy, on translucent blue.

Burned through my 7th period Romeo and Juliet journals–the last pile of response journals I WILL EVER GRADE. Scored a handful of late, late, super late Langston Hughes essays and annotations, and the very late response journal from The Emily Dickinson unit in IB Literature.

Next on the spinning platter of awesomeness: Thundercat, It Is What It Is. And then some more old photographs.

Sara, my English department colleague running the yearbook class, was able to dig out the 1989-90 edition for my perusal, my very first year of teaching. No teacher mugshots. Apparently the tradition of making teachers take a school picture every year alongside students had not yet kicked in. But there is a faculty section with some candids here and there and group shots of entire departments. A couple of observations: One, I was wearing what appears to be a cardigan sweater over my plaid button shirt. Super Mister Rogers of me. And I had just begun working on the mullet that would come into it’s full powers a couple of years later. Two: there are 11 teachers in the English Department and one full time department secretary. Let me say that again: 11. English Department teachers. Full-time secretary. Today, in 2022, in a school that has fluctuated in student growth a bit here and there, but has in large part remained about the same size, we employ 6 English teachers. Let me say that again. 6. And NO secretary. Can you imagine? A secretary for departments? That used to be a thing. Also a thing: a contractual limitation of 125 students for each full-time English teacher. That, in part, explains the large department of English teachers. Now there are no such contractual limitations. If a school in our district were to assign 200 students to a single English teacher, nothing could stop them. And I know that in recent years that has actually happened in my own school house. This, my final year, saw for the first time in a long time, a humane student/teacher ratio. In part, low enrollment, and also the continuing Virtual Online Program for kids who weren’t ready to return to school kept those numbers down. I understand, though, that next year, my full-time position is becoming a half-time position. 6 teachers will become 5 and a half teachers. Numbers will go through the roof. And I won’t be here.

Join me tomorrow for my 4th day away from retirement.

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Who’s Counting? Six

I said I wasn’t counting the days until retirement. In fact, it’s been a point of pride for me. Look, I seem to be saying, I don’t know how many days are left in the school year and isn’t that special? But, as it gets close enough to poke with a stick and impossible to pretend, I thought it would be funny to do a series of countdown blog entries, to begin, as they say, to count the days. Maybe it would be entertaining or edifying, I thought, to make a record, to document the close of my last school year.

Here is a kind of bullet list record of today, 6 days away from the end.

  • My covid 19 booster #2 kicked in at about midnight, and, while my reaction was nowhere near as hideous as it has been for previous shots, it nevertheless disturbed the sleep in a big way. My brain was in a kind of nonsensical feedback loop from which I could not break free until about five in the morning. I rallied. I’m here, standing upright, but clearly not at peak performance.
  • That’s okay. My two groups of sophomores, due to a bizarre scheduling kerfuffle, had one more day than my other groups of sophomores. They had a choice: spend some extra time preparing for their final project on Romeo and Juliet, or enjoy (what they had been clambering for throughout the unit) the cinematic masterpiece that is Gnomeo and Juliet. Guess which one they chose.
  • While there are a few clever parallels and some Shakespeare easter eggs peppered throughout, watching this film had next to no educational value. Maybe that’s harsh. There’s always something to learn from a well-made computer generated animated film. And it had Elton John’s music in it. The students were happy.
  • My second period seniors have flown the coop. They were done last Thursday–so I’ve got extra time today to get through stacks of Romeo and Juliet journals, to peck away at this little entry, and to nurse my vaccination side-effect blues with some premium gummy worms.
  • Goals: get through my grading to-do list so that there’s plenty of time to get through the removal of 33 years of collected crap in the classroom to-do list.
  • Goals: listen to every album in the classroom record collection from start to finish once, moving backwards through the alphabet. First up: Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites.
  • Goals: begin the process of bequeathing things, to sign away “What portion of me be/Assignable–” I don’t want to end up like Steve Martin’s the Jerk on my last day, taking everything I can carry in my arms, unable to leave anything behind. This ashtray. This paddle game. These matches. This lamp. The chair, and the remote control. That’s all I really need.
  • Second up: Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes.
  • I burned through three piles of Romeo and Juliet journals.
  • For the second time, I signed a copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go for a graduating senior.
  • I picked up a robe for the graduation ceremony.
  • Today is the last full school day of the year and of the career. That one refuses to fully sink in. Tomorrow begins a four day final exam schedule. I need to rest off this vaccination funk. Two different doctor’s appointments in the afternoon. Too toasty to play drums tonight. Rehearsal canceled. I get home and it’s nearly 6:30.

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Notes On Retirement

As I approach the last work week of a 33 year career in public education, I find myself looking for a way to write about that experience and falling short of figuring out what to say and how to say it. I started one blog essay which attempted to explore my rationale for retirement, but it sputtered out. 33 years seemed rationale enough. But I was writing it, I suppose, because I thought maybe my predicament was different, that my reasons might be particular to me and maybe even interesting. The fact that it sputtered out, though, seemed to indicate something else, like I was justifying something that did not need justification, or looking for some way to make peace with the decision for which I was not completely comfortable. I’m pretty convinced that to retire this year was the right decision for me, but it nevertheless comes with some trepidation, as any big life decision does. Can I continue to find rewarding work to do? Will I find fulfillment or success in other endeavors? Was it a sound financial decision? How much will I have to pay for health care? Can I be disciplined (or lucky) enough to maintain or even improve my health? And does not retirement, at its core, represent a progression into a kind of last movement in the symphony of life? I don’t care for that metaphor–but beyond all the excitement about the fun and the freedom and possible new opportunities, there is this grim realization that, you know, retirement marks the fact that we might only have a decade or two or three of living left to us. So–one of the most exciting and rewarding moments in a life also has its morbid and dark shadows. While I find myself in various states of bliss as I look forward to the mysteries of retired life, I also find myself worrying about things I’ve never worried about before, like the above nagging questions.

I sit down on this Sunday evening to come back at and hopefully finish these notes on retirement, and I’m feeling a little weird tonight after receiving my second COVID-19 booster shot this morning, fearing that the side effects might be as extreme as they were for me in all the other cases, but hopeful, too, because so far I’ve just felt a little sleepy, no chills and uncontrollable shaking, no fever, no serious ick. It would suck to have to call in sick on the last Monday of the school year–but I am ready for that outcome if things take a turn this evening. One upshot of the close of the final school year has been this compulsion not to miss anything and to be involved in every last thing I can. Since abandoning the mask a few weeks ago now, I have been, I admit, a tad paranoid about catching the COVID. I don’t want to miss any days. There’s too much to do. I hosted an end of the year social for staff, I attended a send-off party for another colleague who’s leaving the country, I’m going to the graduation ceremony for the first time in seven years, and I’m throwing my own little party next weekend. And I find myself to the very end immersed in planning the very last weeks and days of the school year in the same way I always have, but perhaps with just a bit more vigor. A colleague will often greet me in the hall and ask me if I’m counting the days. Honestly, I have not been counting. If anything–the question of how many more days do I have until I’m done has been more about maximizing the time that I have rather than anticipating a glorious finish–not how many days do I have, but how many days do I get?

But don’t misunderstand me. I guess I have to say it again. I want to retire. I am doing it. I’ve got irons in the fire, and I am youngish enough to have the sufficient vigor, I hope, to somehow finish up that blacksmith metaphor, you know, by doing whatever blacksmith’s do as they pull their irons out of the fire. That act of creation, of making something new from some molten raw material. I’m done with this metaphor now. You’re welcome. Suffice it to say that I am thoroughly excited about the possibilities that lay before me. I hope to be writing like a fiend, and finally have the time needed for getting that writing out into the world. I plan to make tons of music. I’d like to run writer’s workshops or do Courage and Renewal work with adults. I want to go back to my podcast.

I am leaving the profession at the right time–when I am having a good year, when I have spent time with some of the kindest students in recent memory. I have written zero referrals and have sent no students to the principal’s office this year. I still love this job and this work. I am not burned out and I am, I think, about as on top of the game as I will ever be. And therein lies one of the things I was attempting to say in a previous blog draft that will live as an unfinished draft forevermore: There is a kind of plateau one reaches, I think, after doing a thing, badly or well, for three decades and some change. I am pretty certain that I have done well; I have been, what you might call, a “good” teacher. But I don’t think it gets better than this, up here on this plateau. I think that if I were to continue a number of years longer, I might find myself falling down. I like it up here. But I also want to be doing something again at which I might hope to improve. As Rilke said–strive always to be a beginner. In the last decades of my life I want to be climbing upward and onward, and not, instead, in some kind of downward spiral toward disappointment and burnout. I am ready to rock this.

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