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Teacher, Retired (An Epilogue of Sorts)

July 29, 2011

room 26, my second home

I have been retired for a year. Retired. The word itself smacks of weariness. Retired. Used up. Out to pasture. Tired.

I don’t feel that way. I feel more like a goldfish released from its bowl swimming free in a sea of possibilities. Yeah, I know goldfish don’t swim in a sea. I know all about the myriad predators out there even in a small pond. Hey, we’re talking metaphors here.

Metaphors were my life, or at least a large part of it. I was an English teacher. This triggers raised eyebrows for many. Teacher. Not a very popular profession these days, especially in New Jersey.

But a teacher I was, and a teacher I am, and I am proud of that.

Students sometimes asked me why I became a teacher in the first place. I don’t know the statistics, but I’ve always had the feeling kids either gravitate toward what their parents do or as far from it as possible. In my case, I don’t think either of those applied. During my early childhood, my dad worked several jobs to make ends meet and was home very little. I really didn’t have a strong idea about exactly what he did other than the ever-present sense that it was grinding him down. My mom took in home typing from Parents Magazine, which was located a few blocks from my house in Bergenfield. I learned much about geography as she typed up the addresses on those envelopes (Corpus Christi! Saginaw! Eureka!) but knew that type of work was not for me.

But something happened at school that happened nowhere else. Yes, there was the fear and anxiety that accompany this journey for many kids. There was the rejection and confusion the “odd” kids all experience. But also there was…magic! The joy of discovering all manner of strange and unusual facts. The fascination with words and all the various combinations they produce: stories and books and poems, oh my! The opening of worlds unknown and improbable. And it made a profound mark on me. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the one who could open these worlds to kids, the one who could dispense magic. And I’d do it without all the pitfalls I encountered along the way. I’d do it better!

Well, forty years down the road and having seen this school world from both sides (with more than a few rude awakenings along the way…Oooh, so THAT’S why they had to do that!), I still believe in that magic. It is and has been my Holy Grail, and like the original (Indiana Jones aside), it is a constantly challenging and often impossible pursuit. I must say that at some point of every one of those forty years I asked myself if I had made a wise choice in doing what I was doing. But at the end of every one I came to the conclusion that there was nothing that I would rather do.

There have been the inevitable peaks and valleys, of course, but the rewards have been too numerous to count. I always think of a J. D. Salinger line delivered by Seymore Glass in which he says, “I feel like a paranoid in reverse in that everyone is conspiring to make me happy.” I feel the same way. I have had the great fortune to have worked with such wonderful colleagues, teachers and administrators and support staff alike. Pierrepont School has become like another family to me. There have been so many students that have had a profound impact on me. I will remember them always. I can only hope I gave them something worthwhile in return.

I am at peace with my decision to retire. I am not about to don the white shoes and belt and head off to Florida.  Though I have left my teaching career behind me in one form, part of my resolution was the realization that I did not have to cease to exist as a “teacher” just because I retired from my formal position. There is a world of opportunity available, and a world of need, so I will be changing the where and when and perhaps the how but retaining the essence of who I think I am. This was perhaps the biggest piece for me. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be “teaching” in the normal sense, if I am to be useful and of service, I believe I will be content.

Being a teacher was not just a job for me. It was a passion. I am thankful that I got to live it out for forty years.

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