Purging

6 Jun

Well, gosh. Now what do I whine about? Yesterday was my last official contract day as a high school teacher, and now I’ve got time to write the journals-slash-blogs that I had been intending to write at a more feverish pitch all these years. So I’ll have to reach all the way back to 2000, my first year of teaching, and retro-whine (new verb I made up just for this happy occasion).
Yup, it feels good. I mentally checked out Wednesday afternoon while grading final exams and posting semester grades for my two largest classes. I really didn’t give a flip about the many kids who earned F’s and hesitated only once or twice to raise a kid to passing. I was bracing myself for a sad day Thursday, when I would say goodbye to being a newspaper adviser — my life force behind teaching all these years. But I kept the kids busy with tidying up the lab — they did a phenomenal job — and forced my eyes away from the goodbye card and parting gift. As the bell rang, Wyatt asked, “Are you gonna cry, Ms. Ross?” I didn’t, but I did shout to everyone that they had to give me a hug before they left for the summer.
Several English students said goodbye that week but assumed I’d be back in the fall. Many wrote sweet things in my yearbook commenting on my patience with their particular class and how they had “learned alot.” (I will not take a red pen to their usage error.) The white supremacist — well, she is! — in my junior class wanted to know why I hadn’t told the class I was retiring. She must have read “Ross’s Last Words,” which I’d taped to my door for a couple days. She is one of many students for whom I harbor deep concerns about their future roles as caretakers for my generation.
On the other hand, there were several remarkably nice students in that class and in others. The captain of the soccer team and the sweet girl from Texas, both from my junior class, stopped by to take a photo with me. The normally reserved Amanda looked near tears on Thursday. Otherwise, though, as far as the students were concerned, the goodbyes were low-key. Another English teacher, much more popular than myself because of her gregarious, loving nature (which made her an ineffective teacher), had something on her chalkboard to the effect of “So-and-so is irreplaceable!” Gag. We’re all replaceable. The correct spelling of “irreplaceable” and the legible cursive made me wonder if she had put that on the board herself.
Goodbyes where my colleagues were concerned were kind of awkward. I found myself answering the question, “What will you do now?” with increasing discomfort. My answers usually ran to “job-hunting,” “going back to free-lance writing,” “helping my husband with this new businesses,” etc. I said I needed a better-paying job, that I was the family breadwinner now. All these answers garnered nods of understanding, and all these answers are true yet are disingenuous (gosh, I’ve been wanting to use that word for so long!). But how brutally honest did I need to be with colleagues that I liked and respected yet didn’t really know all that well? If they had asked me out for a drink or something more collegial, then they would have deserved this answer:
“I HATE MY JOB AND I’M GETTING THE HELL OUT!”
OK, that’s going overboard. See what happens when a frustrated teacher doesn’t let it all out in a blog often enough?
I knew that my last day of teaching would ultimately be a happy day, even though many other retiring teachers might have been regretful or morose at leaving “the kids.” For me, it was just a matter of thinking back to several early mornings throughout the semester (once I knew I was retiring) that I got out of bed for my shower, thinking, “I hate my job.” Hated the pressures I was under as yearbook adviser, hated the obnoxious and disrespectful students, hated how weekends were consumed by grading.
Down the line, these troubles will fade in my memory and most likely, I will remember the good times. I don’t regret 10 years in teaching, for a lot of reasons (another blog), but change is good, as I tried to tell a couple of my colleagues.
I would have said effusively grateful things about teaching to my principal, had she given me the time of day. I popped my head into her office and she was busy yelling at her administrative assistant (who, I’m sure, didn’t deserve such treatment). So much for that goodbye.
I ran into a 30s-ish teacher who’s wonderful at her job and quite likable; we don’t find time to talk often enough. But she wanted to tell me a bit about my successor as adviser, who would be transferring out of her department. Anyway, she told me I never tooted my horn and that I would be extremely hard to replace. Very sweet. I came out of my modesty and said that the school was very lucky to have me for 10 years.
I saw a longtime teacher who’d been given the heave-ho in the district’s weird Reduction in Force ritual. I had never liked her much and didn’t say anything except “How’s the packing going?” She didn’t even seem to acknowledge that I was packing too.
The head of my department said she was “in denial” that I was leaving, but our goodbye was brief as her mind was on the road trip she was heading out to in a mere 45 minutes. That was pretty typical — teachers with their minds on other things. Understandable.
I gave a hug to the veteran teacher of our department. She’s probably seen so many teachers come and go that she is blase about goodbyes. Also understandable.
A couple of ladies in their 60s also were retiring from our school. We did the happy-retirees hug and exchanged info about all the paperwork for receiving our pensions; I so admire both ladies, but these goodbyes made me feel old.
Saying goodbye to my best buddy was quick and painless because our friendship transcends our school life. Thinking back to the good things that came out of this decade: making such a wonderful friend.
I said goodbye to a whole lot of papers — lesson plans, student work, worksheets, interesting articles, etc. — that I had been hanging onto for way too long. I filled at least six boxes for the recycling bin. The word “purge” came to mind during two long days of classroom cleaning. Heck, I can see why bulimia would be addictive.
So it’s one more meeting on Tuesday to brief my successor, hand over the keys — my precious keys! — and bluntly tell the guy not to screw up my journalism program.
Burdens lifted, temper quieted, whines dissipating, smiles forming — starting today.

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