This is my symphony

What I read & what I lived …

Six months ago I set out on this new retirement journey, and I want to remember my experiences along the way. I wrote this prologue two years before my last day of teaching and kept it hidden away until now.

Early June 2016:

Yesterday–before I left for the summer–I tore another June off my desk calendar, ticking off my twenty-third year of teaching. Since I’m only a couple years from retirement, I’ve started to  think about about my identity as ‘teacher’–and more importantly, what the loss of that role will mean for me. Before this gig, I was ‘homemaker’, marriage coming in my late teens and then my first pregnancy soon after. When the marriage ended and I went back to school, I substituted ‘student’’ for ‘homemaker’ and eventually settled on ‘teacher’.

For the next twenty-three years, that was me–the role I’ve played longer than nearly any other. I graded papers over countless weekends, worked on lesson plans at night, ran copies before and after school, herded 120 plus sixteen-year-olds through five successive hours each day. It was up at 5 AM and to bed at 9 PM. I filed and organized and decorated each August. I drooped and stashed and tore down every June.

So I’m beginning to think about what my good bye will mean for me. I need time to break it to myself gently because that’s how I deal with life. Little-by-little I disentangle myself; bit-by-bit I take another step away. Emotionally, this can’t be a ripping-off-the-bandaid type of departure.

Last week I read a wonderful book about high school in Poland, Korea, and Finland titled The Smartest Kids in the World. (This won’t be a book review, but let me suggest you get the book and start reading now, it’s that good.) Author Amanda Ripley followed three American high schoolers who were dissatisfied with their schooling in the States and became exchange students. Ripley framed her portraits of the teens with statistics and narratives about the success of the education systems in their respective countries. It was clear from the data that other countries have strengths we don’t. The American teens felt their experiences in Polish and Finnish high schools gave them something their home schools never could: higher expectations, greater social freedom, schooling and teachers held in higher esteem. (Korea was a mixed bag because of the hagwon system of after-school tutoring sometimes referred to as cram-school.)

There is plenty I’ve become disenchanted with over the past twenty three years myself. Teachers now walk in lock step, we’re continually testing and reviewing data, we’ve seen our pay and benefits shrink year after year. When I was a fresh, wide-eyed teacher I couldn’t understand the jaded, worn-out senior teachers. Now, sadly, I do. So somehow in the next few years I need to figure out what memories I’ll let define my teaching career. And I’ve started to cherish those times (sometimes with a lump in my throat) I know are coming to a close–like reading long passages of literature aloud, conferencing with students about their rewrites, and connecting a teen with a good book.

And this.

A few years ago our then-new principal (a Troops to Teachers guy, as I understood it) started the practice of reciting the pledge after morning announcements. Seven hundred voices join together in tradition, one that brings back my own school days.

I watch my motley assortment of teenagers–diverse in race, economic status, sexual orientation–pledge their allegiance to our country, the God of their understanding, and each other, and I am moved, at times, to tears.

This, I will remember.

8 thoughts on “The one where I retired: The Prologue (Part 1)

  1. Dan Zondervan says:

    Enjoyed reading this. You really have lived a whole other life since I first meet you.


    1. Laurie says:

      Haven’t we all?! I guess I hadn’t thought of it in quite some time, but you are correct–in 1978 I never would have thought life would take me where it has. Probably a good thing I DIDN’T know …
      Thanks for reading, Dan–


  2. David Staublin says:

    I so enjoyed this! What a great idea you had, writing down your journey to retirement and keeping it secret!!! Now I’m dying of anticipation, waiting for your next journal entry. Please don’t wait too long before you share the next one!


    1. Laurie says:

      Thanks for reading, Dave! I’ve got two scheduled for later this week–and then … I need to hit the ONE YEAR anniversary!


  3. Carolyn Bolthouse says:

    This is great, Laurie!! I agree with Dave that you are brilliant to have captured your thoughts at that step of your journey…also anticipating more entries!


    1. Laurie says:

      So happy to have you stop by, Carolyn! Stay tuned …


  4. Denice says:

    This is the Laurie I know. While the rest of us anticipate our retirement day with one eye on the calendar watching each day tick down you are thinking deep thoughts and writing it down. You go, girl.


    1. Laurie says:

      Well … at least once I did!!!


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