On the last day of the last year at the school where I’ve worked for a very long time, it seems sort of oddly perfect to be sitting by myself in a room monitoring detention students who are not here, which gives me a little time and space to reflect. So, what have I been thinking about lately as this year winds down?
1. So many good people have passed through my life within these walls. I’m grateful for the relationships. It doesn’t matter whether they were students or colleagues. We were humans growing and learning together. That’s the most important thing.
2. At a retirement celebration earlier this week, I asked one of my pals who’s been retired for a few years if he had any advice for me. His answer: “Yeah. Don’t get hit by a bus on Friday. That would be really stupid.”
3. The question I’ve been asked the most is “So, what are you going to do next?” The best answer I can give right now is “I’m going to take some time and figure that out.” In recent years I’ve become pretty clear on the distinction between my job and my work. My job is ending. My work isn’t done. I have some inklings of what I’d like to do, but it keeps shifting. I have definite ideas about what I don’t want to do, but that’s not a good platform for decision-making. I’m well aware of how fortunate I am to be 55 years old and retired from a gratifying job.
4. The other question I’ve been asked quite a bit is “So, how does it feel?” Well, it feels pretty weird, probably because it’s a mixture of emotions. I’m happy because I have new opportunities in front of me, even though I don’t quite know what they are yet. I’m happy because I know too many good people who didn’t get to have a retirement, and I’m sad as I think about those friends I lost too soon. The frustrations with my job in recent years have not been resolved, but they will no longer matter to me personally in a few hours, and I believe the issues will soon evolve in a positive direction for the colleagues I’ve leaving behind.
The strangest feeling is one I don’t know if I can articulate. For the last few decades I’ve been soaking up experiences and ideas with this in mind: “How can I use it in class?” The products of my professional life and thinking have played out in my classes, and I no longer have classes. I can’t stop thinking and learning, so how will I spend that processing? That’s an interesting challenge and part of my larger upcoming decision-making.
4. I’ve worked really hard this year. I worked hard every year, but this year I put extra pressure on myself to do things as well as they can possibly be done. I gave thorough feedback to writers in a variety of ways. I spent every ounce of enthusiasm I had on helping students see themselves as authentic readers and writers. When anyone asked me for something that would help their lives, I tried to do it. I never said, Sorry—too busy. I honored my pledge to my students that I would only ask them to do things that I thought had authentic value, and if we had to do something that I didn’t believe in, I would tell the truth about that. I stayed up to speed on important issues in education and used that knowledge for perspective on what I said and wrote throughout the year. I used every possible opportunity to integrate technology into my curriculum. I continued to try new approaches, new materials, and new activities. I feel like I’m crossing the finish line at full speed.
5. My family is the most important thing in my world. Always has been, always will be.
6. So many people have said nice things to me and about me over the last few months. I might even start believing some of it. When my passions boiled over a couple of times this year, I’m especially grateful for those who told me that I was being … difficult.
(The detention student just showed up. She said, “Hi, Mr. Anderson. Are you excited that it’s your last year?” I told her, Yes. She said, “You should write another book.” When I asked her what the book should be about, she said, “Everything.” I like that idea.)
I know I’m lucky because I don’t have to wonder if my career (so far) meant anything. There will be no existential debate about that. The biggest lesson is that Yes, what teachers do matters, so we had better do it well and right. The ripples go on and on, affecting people we remember vividly, some we may not remember clearly, and still others we will never know. Most of the noblest people I’ve known in my life are teachers, and our job is profoundly important. Being a part of that tribe is an inspiring responsibility and opportunity.
So, my future blog posts will be from a guy who used to work at Fremd High School. Thanks to everyone who reads this and uses it as a catalyst for appreciating teachers. Share that appreciation with teachers who have meant something to you or your children.
Career and retirement advice is welcome below. Mwah!