Well, I retired yesterday, June 1, 2017. 48 years of teaching with 43 of them being at Chartiers Valley High School. I can’t gauge how I feel yet. I know that I love teaching and have worked to develop my craft. I know that I cherish interacting with students and treating them as equals so that they can develop the trust needed for a teacher to make any impact on a student. And yet, the drastic changes of tearing down the building, moving to a temporary area and then packing up and moving again to the new high school mid-year was too much. The students are affected as usual. Three floors will be crammed into two. A building for three grade levels will now accommodate four grade levels. We are short on teachers, custodians, and secretaries. I didn’t feel that I could maintain the level of professionalism that I expect from myself. I considered it a sign for me that I close it down.
It was a difficult decision because for 64 years, I have awakened in the morning, got prepared, and went to SCHOOL. But there is a time for a person to see the light and make a decision of courage. A friend and former teacher at CV told me to retire when you are on top of your game. I felt that way in the 2016-17 school year and the signs screamed for attention.
I am always awed by the turns and twists of life that bring you to where you are at a specific time. In the past month, I had three colleagues ask me how I stayed so long in teaching. Each of them expressed the fact that they had 15-20 years and did not know how they could make it or if they would. I was taken a back by this new role thrust upon me. I was now the grizzled veteran that might have some wisdom to offer that my colleagues asked me about because they felt that I had something to say to them. This put me in the “spotlight” so I knew that I had to reflect and provide a response. I did.
There were three pieces of advice that I offered. First, every morning when you get up, be thankful for something. Gratitude is a virtue. In today’s world of entitlement, gratitude is a weak sister. What are you thankful for? It could be the fact that you really have a good job. Every day isn’t perfect but in the grand picture, we live in the United States of America and there is certainly something to be grateful for. I am doing what I like (because I chose to do this). My family and I are taken care of by the compensation and amenities that are important to me; gratitude could be just getting up and taking a breath; or, it could be thankfulness and gratefulness for a person in your life. Being grateful comes in many, many forms.
Recently I heard Dr. Christian Conte talk about happiness. He is a local and one of the nation’s leading authorities on emotional management and how it affects our private and professional lives. In the interview, he indicated that the best path to happiness was to wake up in the morning and identify something mindfully for which you have gratitude. I felt validated.
Second, stay away from negative people. They are like magnets of malignancy. They exude their negativity; they relish in bringing others down into their ruts and take pleasure in killing hope and forward thinking. The subliminal lure is that it is easier to bemoan one’s condition than to take action to correct it. We can hide behind the wall of inaction and negativity. OR, we can address this issue by mentally and physically eluding negative people. Make decisions based on the fortitude of our lives and not on the direction of the majority.
Case in point that has become an urban legend among teachers: Stay out of the Faculty Room. It is in the Faculty Room where you will hear the complaints of phantom injustices: “I had to stay until 3:10 (ten minutes after the end of the school day officially) because of a parent meeting.” What should I do to grieve this injustice? Or, why do I have to monitor the halls before my planning period because it cuts into my free time? Another or: I do not want to do anything regarding school until my official starting time so I am going to sit here and do nothing. All of these are examples of mindful picayune-ness. And they are products of negative people who do not acknowledge the gratitude of being a teacher.
Finally, have courage. Courage is not just victory in battle or a venture into success against a strong and capable opponent. Courage can be to stand up for an unpopular decision because it is borne out of moral conviction. Courage can be to say no or yes against a powerful argument of the opposite. Courage can be to confront a colleague who is dominant in his/her persuasion and take an opposite stand. Courage can be to discipline a student as per a genuine teacher’s request knowing that the parents will become involved and provide an opposition.
These ‘pieces of advice’ are not panaceas, they are really the ‘grit of life.’ They can help us to understand our world better by examining the vicissitudes of life. They are in the folds of our brain matter.
I hope that my three “students” can internalize the messages. And I hope that all who read this see these trials of life that need a focused and mindful effort. They are steps to living in a “wonderful world.”