Life After Retirement
I’m not counting, but I think it will be three years since I left kicking and screaming from a job I loved as an elementary teacher. Retirement. A word I didn’t like and an event I thought would never happen. But it did. Weeks of farewell parties from teachers, my friends, will always be in my memory. And the endless cards and loving notes from the children and parents, are now stashed away in a brown moving box labeled “retirement”. I knew it would be a strange feeling not getting up at six a.m., and heading across the street to my classroom (yes, my work place, my school was across the street…a blessing and curse). There were those days of pure panic…the lessons. Could I cover everything I wanted in a short time frame? Would my kiddos be prepared for their test? The things I don’t miss were the last minute changes because of time constraints or the IEP meetings that accidentally slipped my mind, running down the hall, pulling myself together the last second before walking into the office, but trying to act prepared and professional, as I greeted the parents and Principal (my secret is out). And the parent/teacher conferences in the evening, my words slurring together by 8 p.m., as I stared at the parents in total exhaustion, letting them know how smart and wonderful their child was…which, I will have you know if you’re a parent reading this, I meant every word!
But what I really remember were all those “ah-ha” moments with my kiddos, my students. The idea that I had a classroom of children who were my responsibility for an entire year and I was in control of their education, was an incredible feeling. I wanted my kiddos to love learning!
I remember how much I enjoyed teaching Social Studies focusing on the Revolutionary War. Then the curriculum changed, taking away that important subject. But that didn’t stop me, I’d fit it in somehow. I continued to tell the children Revolutionary War stories and how the United States and our democracy came to be. I wanted them to have in their head a timeline and know that the Civil War followed some 80 years later. I wanted my kiddos to realize that Abe Lincoln knew of our first President George Washington, but not the other way around. Believe it or not that was confusing for students, especially on President’s Day, with their silouttes hanging side by side on the wall, they thought they were buddies. Also important, though not in the curriculum, was knowing the capitals of all the states. That was a must! And maps…where did they go? My last few years of teaching, having a map of the United States in the classroom was rare. So, purchase a map or two I did. Having a sense of not only who you are, but where you came from and where you live is so important to all children, especially in these days. But all in all, my students came to realize that some of the most interesting stories was reading about our country’s history. I had my kiddos hooked…they loved Social Studies.
My team and I would blend Social Studies into leveled literacy book groups. We were creative, seamless, and quick to execute. Because of time, we had to be, but our kiddos loved it. In my classroom, I had Story Time Café once a week. Armed with a story and a pretend cup of coffee, each child for that one moment once a week, was the star and in the “spotlight” , literally using an old transparency machine I didn’t throw out. Many were fearful at first, but all eventually came up to the stool, wanting to share their stories for the classmates gathered around on the floor at their feet. Self-esteem soared as each boy and girl got the chance to be a storyteller, receiving applause from peers in the form of snapping their fingers like a beatnik (look the word up).
Yes, I miss those days. If you are a teacher reading this, my advice is to enjoy your students every day. They are in your hands. It is YOU who they will remember for the rest of their lives. It truly is the best job in the world. I realized it then and certainly do now.
I know now that the word ‘retirement’ is not in my vocabulary anymore. I look at my on-going journey as more of transition from one thing to the next, but always centered around those kiddos we dearly love.
Story Time Café featuring Bobby Brennan~
Stay tuned for more of P.J. HarteNaus’ journey as educator and author of the Belden Boy Series and creator of the Belden Boy Writing Camp in a one-room schoolhouse!