Ready to Go for the 34th Time

Here I am, ready to go, in my first-year teacher photo (1981).

Here I am, ready to go, in my first-year teacher photo (1981).

Tomorrow morning I begin my thirty-fourth and final year as a public school teacher. I’m enthusiastic, positive, focused, and ready to go. I’m not tired or burned out. Most days I’m at the top of my game, looking for new challenges, opportunities, and possibilities.

As in other years, I have these two goals for myself that can only be accomplished one student at a time:

1. Each student should have a quality literacy experience each day. That experience can take many different forms, but it needs to be excellent, and it’s my job to make it excellent.

2. Readers and writers think with certain habits and patterns. Students who are developing as lifelong readers and writers need practice forming and maintaining those behaviors and ways of thinking. That’s my other goal—laying the groundwork and providing the practice and feedback that will deepen those habits for each student.

But this year is a little different because it’s the last go-round at the school where I’ve worked for the past 27 years. With that in mind, I have three other goals.

Enjoy. I have loved this job. Every day I’m privileged to write, read, talk, and think about writing and reading and talking and thinking with exciting young people at the most interesting point of their young lives. The challenge of helping them find ways to authentically integrate literacy into their developing lives is always invigorating. I work alongside other dedicated professionals, and I communicate daily with teachers from around the world who are also energetically involved in the same work. This is a wonderful, wonderful way to earn a living, but sometimes I lose sight of that. This year the focus is on enjoying my job.

Here/Now. Smart teachers always have an eye on how they can adapt and improve their lessons, materials, and approaches for the future. I have no idea what I’ll be doing a year from now, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be using the same lessons, materials, and approaches that I’ve crafted over the last few decades. “How can I do this better?” is still a valid question, but “How should I do this next year?” is no longer a valid question for me. So, the attention will be on what I can do right now to make the most of each moment for each student I’m with. Will there be frustrations? Sure. We have some pretty hairy mandates to live through this year. They will need to be thrown overboard or at least tweaked at some point in the future. I won’t be a part of the revamping, so I’m not going to spend much time thinking about it. I still care about the school I’ve called home all these years, but those who have a direct stake in the aftermath should have the leading voices in shaping its future. I’ll be focusing on the here and now when I’m at school.

Next year. In the coming months, I need to spend time clarifying my own thinking about what to do after retiring from this job. Although I have some ideas, I need to figure out how to make them into realistic plans. Right now, I’d kind of like to work with middle schoolers, and I have the certification to do that. I’m also passionate about designing and delivering professional development for teachers at all stages of their careers, especially when it comes to literacy. I know exactly how to help schools discover their literacy programming needs and how to help them achieve their literacy goals. Can I make that passion and expertise into a viable job? I don’t know. I also have some writing projects in various stages of completion. To be honest, there are days when I just want to be finished with education. I’ve been a truck stop cook, cemetery maintenance worker, factory line worker, and a pizza maker. I’ve worked on road crews, farms, and construction sites. Some days I miss that kind of work, but I know I’m at my best and doing the most good when I’m active in a school.

I hope all you teachers reading this have your best year ever. We do noble work, and we have huge responsibilities. Help each other.

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13 Responses to Ready to Go for the 34th Time

  1. Thanks for sharing your goals and plans for the upcoming year with us. This helps me get in the right mindset too. I oftentimes need to remember to “enjoy” more. I absolutely love teaching, but sometimes I lose track of that. A great way to start off your last year with us, Gary. I hope it’s the best one yet!

    And thank you, thank you for that picture. It’s pure gold.

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  2. Kadie Dahlgren says:

    Thank you for sharing this! You’ll be missed. I know that I’m 5 years out of high school (weird), but you and Mr. Palmer definitely were on my list of favorite teachers at Fremd and I love seeing and hearing about what’s going on in your classroom. Wishing you the best in this upcoming school year!

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  3. Gary, I’m so honored to share your last year with you and soak up some more knowledge. I’m even MORE excited that I’ll continue to gain from your insights for years to come. Read: you’re stuck with me. The field of education would greatly benefit from your passion for literacy and kids. Thank you for some great advice to keep in mind; amidst all the chaos, I can strive for one quality literacy experience a day. I can do that. Thank for my new daily mantra.

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  4. So excited to follow your year, Gary! Going out at the top of your game is the way to do it! Congratulations and smooth sailing this year!

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  5. readingteach says:

    You are truly an inspiration my friend! I am so very grateful that our paths have crossed. No matter what you pursue in the future, I hope I get to be a small part of it. I am a better educator and person because I know you.

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  6. Glenda Funk says:

    I keep thinking about how what’s important to me in my classroom has changed and continues to change the closer I get to retirement. Life is too short to get dragged down into some of the gutters, so even though this next year isn’t my last, I’ve been thinking about very similar goals. I’m involved in a very big and demanding project this upcoming year, and I’ll need to remember to “enjoy” every moment. Getting to know you, first via social networking and then in person, has been a real honor and treat. You set high standards for our profession and make me frequently ask: What would Gary do?

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  7. Marilyn Berdick says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, Gary, not just for this coming school year but for the past twenty-plus years we’ve been colleagues. I’m sad to think this is your last year with me, but I know you’re not going all that far away next year!

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  8. Kathleen R says:

    Here/Now…that is tough and at the same time hard to fathom…what to do next year when there won’t be a next year to teach. I always reflect on my lessons. Hard to imagine the mind set of… that was great…it would be better if…but I’m not teaching it next year.

    Enjoy your year. Live it up to the fullest. Take risks and inspire the heck out of them.

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  9. I love your spark and positive outlook. It has been such a blessing crossing paths and learning from and with you. It sounds like you’ve set yourself up for a great year. The enjoy paragraph speaks to me. I love what I do, but there are times I remind myself to feel and focus on the joy of and not get caught up in heralding alarm of change or discontent. Thank you, Gary, for sharing your light.

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  10. Rehmat Ebrahim says:

    I am pretty much in a similar situation. I too have decided to say goodbye to the classroom after 30 odd years. I ‘ve decided to give the year my best shot and to enjoy the experience. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of voluntary work and to mentoring teachers through professional development trainings. I wish us both and all others like us good luck.

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  11. Tony Romano says:

    I’m looking forward to updates throughout the year! I’m hoping your students stumble across this blog. They need a glimpse behind the curtain, which I know is fairly transparent in your case, but they need to know how encompassing your passion is for teaching. It’s not just a 7 to 3 thing, as some of them may imagine. Administrators should read these updates as well. But we know that’s never going to happen.

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  12. Jodi Moeller says:

    Always an inspiration, Gary! Like many others, I am so glad that our paths have crossed and that I have had the opportunity to share and learn with one of the best! I look forward to what the future holds for you and education (not to mention finally getting you to St. Louis for WW!).

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  13. Thank you so much! Have an AMAZING year!

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