What to do the day after you leave teaching…

Try to write a long-overdue blog post about the end of the school year, but fail. The emotions are too complex. The parts about the kids and the work itself and whether you made the right decision and why come out sounding hackneyed. The parts about why you are leaving are too bitter at worst and too confused at best. You haven’t separated out your own personal shortcomings from those of the system or of the school, so leave it. It’s not something to write about yet. Worry about not being able to keep your promise to the kids to come back and coach robotics next year, because of the souring of one particular relationship that might lead to a complete separation from the life of the school you helped found. Six years ended with a cold goodbye and a handshake. Know that the kids have had promises broken before. You aren’t the first and won’t be the last. Reflect that the schools themselves are a broken promise to these kids, even the better schools.

Think about the workshop on suicide prevention you were required to attend three weeks before the end of your teaching career, and how you said, at the end, that you thought you could recognize warning signs and would take it all very seriously, but the fact of the matter is that more than half the kids, arguably, have witnessed trauma or experienced pretty troubled relationships and could probably use some counseling, but it’s not an option: even those in crisis sometimes have to wait months. So really – you didn’t say this part out loud – what the hell is the point in being educated again and again about how to identify kids at risk and get them help when there is no one available to provide that help? It’s triage, the guy leading the workshop acknowledged.

Wonder how it all came to feel so personal, and how, if you want to make a difference on this earth, you are going to have to get over this tendency to hold everyone and everything to an unreachable standard. Not personal in the sense of, oh-the-kids-are-so-troubled-I-can’t-bear-to-look; it’s personal in the sense of letting things bother you far too much: all the little policies that feel wrong, all the breakdowns in communication, all the how-to-run-a-school stuff that could be different and better. It’s knowing an entire brilliant, enthusiastic, committed staff has been alienated and that each of those people will leave, sooner or later, and it probably didn’t have to happen, and that’s heartbreaking. But for you, it was time. Wonder if someday, you’ll be patient and wise enough to return or even to lead a school.

Feel like this post is swinging towards the irretrievably negative and that wasn’t the intention. Remember the hug a girl gave you on Wednesday when she said she’d miss you so much, and the explosive smile on a kid’s face when you told him that you hope his new school will work out for him because you know he’s a really good science student and not to throw away that ability. Cross your fingers that he settles down, stops fighting, and doesn’t follow his three male role models to violent death or prison. Think about the games you played with the kids on the last day of school, all the summer camp stuff you taught them and how they sat for hours playing and how you baked a cake and had a party with your advisory and they helped clean up with only a little prodding and then you danced to Fergie with them and a boy came to the door and saw you dancing and his mouth kind of dropped open and everyone laughed. Know that there are a thousand-odd kids out there who learned a lot of science, and that when they come back from high school they have grades in the 90s and are talking about science careers, and that 8 years is a long time and a lot of impact even if it isn’t the fabled 25-year-life’s-mission.

Wonder about the future. Feel excited about new projects, especially when you’re with your new colleague or in your new office or picturing the events you want to organize. Feel excited about a new, less-grueling schedule. Feel exhaustion rippling through your bones, your skin clammy with woke-up-too-early-because-it’s-so-hot stickiness.

Call all your doctors and schedule long overdue appointments. Turn your organizing energy, once reserved for sixth grade team leadership, to planning a Batman marathon before the new one comes out and a picnic in the park when Feist is playing and three days of beach next week and your writer’s group meetings. Consider signing up for another writing class. Think about visiting IKEA so that the next time you move, you’ll have even more furniture. Think about DSLR cameras and plane tickets to China or Thailand this winter. Realize you seriously need to spend some time walking through green landscapes. Ask friends about borrowing a tent. Wonder if that guy is ever going to call back or if he just isn’t into you. Fill your calendar with free music and outdoor theater and festivals and movies on rooftops. Listen to your cat snore and lick her lips in her sleep and wonder what she is dreaming about. Clean your room. Go to the gym. Go to the bank. Write some thank you notes.


Go see some falling water.

Talk to you later, everyone.



Filed under confession, education, teaching

11 responses to “What to do the day after you leave teaching…

  1. Jeri

    Walking through green landscapes — thanks for that phrase and image. What lovely writing. I wish you so, so well in your new stage and am certain that your impact will continue to be positive. I hope you will find good friends there in the new place, who will help you stay motivated to make good changes for kids.

    Will we see/read about China or Thailand as we did about Turkey and India? I hope so!

  2. Great post. You said a lot of things I wish I’d been able to articulate when I wrote my own blog post about leaving. I’m soooooo excited for you!

  3. charterteacher

    Is there a place on here where you give an overview of your situation as a teacher? I teach in a Chicago charter school and coincidentally just posted my own “summer psyche” entry, although I’m actually primed for the trenches next Fall. I’ve been teaching five years, and this last one was the first time I really felt like I knew what I was doing, not just bailing water. I also had a very similar feeling of hollowness at graduation this year.

    What are you going to do next? What happened to make you quit? Take a look at the most recent post on my page, written literally twenty minutes after you write this.

  4. well, this is a great post, jumbled and emotional just like your/our minds. 🙂

  5. Wonderful post. I, too, have scheduled time to once again wander green landscapes.

    After a mere four years, I’m leaving the classroom. Off to work for an education non-profit organization. My passion for education hasn’t dwindled in the least, just my stamina.

    Best wishes. You’re blog inspired my teaching practice and fortified my beliefs about education.

    Enjoy the strolls.

  6. Will you still be “Ms. Frizzle”?

  7. SalemTeacher

    Wow! I didn’t think anyone felt the same way I did about leaving, which makes me feel a little less lonely about leaving school too.

    Good luck and enjoy wandering!

  8. Pingback: ISTP Dad : Leaving Teaching — Two New Stories I Found

  9. Mary

    I left after 27 years, and you articulated my feelings SO well! Thank you for making me feel better. I didn’t think it would happen, but I AM living “happily ever after” since leaving the classroom. I wish that for you too.

  10. newteacher

    I have to blog for my college graduate class. Did you retire? I know a teacher who retired and was loving it, until her husband got laid off. I know a teacher who won’t retire because she said she would be too bored. What made you retire?

  11. wales drama teacher

    That part about broken promises – really hit home. What a fantastc pieceof writing which sums up all those complex emotions i’ve been feeling,really emotive work.

    I’m handing in my notice 3 weeks before end of the autumn term this monday and can only work one week more (maternity cover). It’s the hardest wrench from a job i’ve ever left as the wonderful kids i teach don’t deserve desertion of this kind.

    But at this late stage in my disillusionment, resentment and bitterness, it’s become a choice between my health and my loyalty to the kids. After so many moments of panic and no-confidence, it’s time to put myself first now – after all – who puts me first as a teacher? Bottom of the pile unfortunatley – wish me luck as I take on a pub as its landlord next week! (what have I done??)

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