First of the Lasts

appreciate thisThis time of year a certain amount of planning is focused on next year. Well, next year is my last year at the school where I’ve worked for 26 years. So, as we lay the groundwork for next year, it’s my last go-round.

Today I filled out my last course preference sheet. This is the form our leadership uses to solicit input about what classes we would like to teach next year. I didn’t write down anything too surprising, but it was still a little eerie knowing it was my last time to think about the way our courses are arranged and what best fits my skills and preferences.

Although I’m retiring from my current school district, I have no intention of fully retiring. I can no longer work in Illinois public education after I retire, but I still have plenty of other options, or at least I hope that’s true. Still, it’s an ending, and it sort of started today with that course preference sheet.

If I’m counting correctly, I have 271 days left with students at my school, plus odds and ends of institute days. I don’t know if that sounds like a big number or a small number to you, but it sounds small to me. I can count the number of times I will go through certain lessons and activities, tell favorite jokes, and report various report-y kinds of things.

This is all a long way of saying I don’t want any wasted days, class periods, or even minutes. As much as I can, I want every student in every class every day to have a joyful, interesting, rewarding experience. If it can’t be joyful every moment, I want it to at least be relevant or productive.

I can’t stand the thought that even one minute will be wasted on things that don’t really help students become better readers, writers, thinkers, or the kind of person you want to have some day for your neighbor or nurse or doctor or mechanic or your child’s life partner.

You may be saying, Why are you waiting for now to have such lofty goals? That’s not really what’s going on here. I’ve always taken pride in how I work with students, conduct classes, and promote literacy, but it now feels even more urgent. These opportunities never seemed finite until now.

What am I trying to say? I think it’s this. Those of us who are teachers do noble work, and we have great responsibilities. Our truest results are not measured by any test. They are measured by how we affect students, how they are better equipped for life because they serendipitously ended up on our roster during a particular year or semester. I’m not sure I’ve always appreciated the opportunity to do this work. I’ve always liked it, even loved it, but I’m not sure ever I’ve truly appreciated it. That perspective is now coming into focus.

My goals for students are stated in the paragraphs above. My goal for myself? Appreciate this.

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7 Responses to First of the Lasts

  1. Lucky students! and Lucky You! Oh, the places you’ll go! So excited to hear about your last year and the next stages of adventures you’ll be having!


  2. This is a very thoughtful post, Gary. Thanks for sharing! I wholeheartedly agree with you when you say that are truest results are how we affect our students. It’s sometimes hard to keep this in mind with the current educational climate, so focused on tests and numbers, and more tests. We’re going to miss having your educational voice and expertise in the office!


  3. Glenda Funk says:

    It begins w/ counting the days to the first class of the first year of teaching. It ends w/ lamenting the passage of time and that there are only a small number of days left. Yes, 271 sound so very small in the vast scheme of things. Time really is finite and does seemingly fly. Onward! 🙂


  4. I read this post with a heavy heart, but also with gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude-you started my teaching career in the best durn English department around. Appreciation-thirteen years of my teaching career will have been spent working with and learning from you. Heavy heart-thirteen years seem to be going by pretty quickly.


  5. amyrasmussen says:

    “Appreciate this.” Great advice for me as I begin this semester, and I am not even close to retirement. Thanks for sharing, my friend, and best blessings as you enjoy the moments!


  6. CBethM says:

    I love that you’re marking time in this way – in the finite moments and possibilities of which you aim to make the very most. It’s so telling of you and how you feel about the work you do and the students who are so lucky to learn with you.


  7. Paul Solarz says:

    I enjoyed reading your post – It’s a great reminder that we need to appreciate the profession we chose and what the real purpose of teaching should be.

    “Our truest results are not measured by any test. They are measured by how we affect students, how they are better equipped for life because they serendipitously ended up on our roster during a particular year or semester.”

    The connection we make with each individual student, and the relationships they have with each other is what matters. That is what they remember and what they need. Those relationships are what make them strong, successful adults far more so than the content we teach them.


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