I’ve taught every grade from kindergarten to university. It was never “just a job”—it actually was a way of life. Both the content and pedagogy were always churning and fermenting in my brain. I was always on the hunt for something fabulous/interesting/curious/confusing to bring up in class. It was a most delightful, challenging mind game that always kept me busy, growing, and entertained. It’s true, that for me, being a teacher meant being a perpetual learner; that was many of the rewards granted daily.
And, of course, there are the students! Every semester I’d meet and greet new members of the Tetreault gang; many would be in the flock forever. Together we overcame challenges: me finding a way to reach them and them working hard to meet our goals. I do miss the look on a student’s face when s/he “gets it”. That’s the moment when the value of brainstorming is realized, or perhaps the recognition of an author’s strategy in writing an essay or maybe it’s a connection to the student’s life. Those “eye-openers” made my heart sing.
When I first started teaching, I remember a high school student who just finished reading The Great Gatsby, ask me, “I want more of this. Did this guy, Fitzgerald, write anything else?” Ahhhh, the beginning of a beautiful friendship! Just a few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a former high school student of mine from ten years ago. He wrote to celebrate that he just got his first professional journal article published, and he thanked me. I blubbered! Teaching is the gift that keeps on giving.
I regularly get e-mails or phone calls from former students just checking in. They let me know what they’re doing, reading or thinking about, and they want to know what I’m up to. Grad school recommendation forms and job references are the norm. There’s always a request for some book suggestions— especially from kids that previously didn’t consider themselves readers. They all are quick to share their latest written treasure or flop. I’m grateful that this aspect of teaching continues, because it really is a joy.
On my one-year anniversary away from the classroom, I can say that life does go on. I miss the intellectual stimulation of classes, but have replaced that with lots of eclectic reading, long conversations with David, and writing this blog. I’m also always seeking other venues that provide access to new ideas and dialogue. There are lots of opportunities to do this at brick and mortar sites as well as on line. My mind is still going a mile a minute.
For the first several months of retirement, I did miss the rhythm and drumbeat of the semester. First day excitement; the “getting to know you” honeymoon period, five critical essays staggered throughout the semester, and the closure at year’s end. At 8:30 am I’d wonder what my Expository Writing class was up to— and during the first week of May I did a double take about the urgency of getting grades done and submitted on time. But that pace is being replaced by my own schedule now. I get up a wee bit later than when I was teaching and have a short list of tasks I want to accomplish. I’m the starter and the pace car and the racecar. It’s all good—the memories and the new life.