Goodbye, Fremdland

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!

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10 Responses to Goodbye, Fremdland

  1. readingteach says:

    Sending big hugs ,my friend! Whatever you do next, you will do it well and it will make a difference. Because that is just who you are. So glad that our paths crossed and that I get to continue to count you as a part of my life.


  2. Have loved following your teaching through this blog and Twitter. You have been a great person for me to learn (steal ideas) from and I have no doubt I will be able to continue to do so. I hope some of what I learn from you is how to retire gracefully and enjoy retirement. I won’t be far behind you….


  3. hannahpfox says:

    It is always interesting to realize that even though students move on, the teachers also move on with it. So many of the wonderful teachers I had at Fremd have retired. I used to think high school just stood still. Thank you for being one of the great teachers of my high school time at Fremd and of my education. It will be exciting to see what happens next for you. Cheers Mr. Anderson!


  4. Marilyn J. Hollman says:

    I recall that odd feeling very well. I gave my grades and book and attendance records and signed off on that sheet for the last time. Walked back to my room past rooms with students and tests and teachers and tests. Sat in “my” quiet room. Looked around. “What am I doing here?”
    Grabbed my bag, swished my skirt and walked down the stairs to my car.
    10 a.m.


  5. glenda funk says:

    Take the advice from your detention student. I read an interview w/ Frank McCourt in which he was asked, “Why did it take you so long to write?” He responded, “I’ve been too busy teaching.” Rest, reflect, read, and keep on keeping on.


  6. amyrasmussen says:

    Thank you, my friend!. Like you, I am moving toward change — not retiring, but to a new campus in a new district. I hope to keep learning and sharing and growing. You’ve been a huge inspiration to me. Your commitment to students and professionals is such model of the kind of educator I want to be. I agree with the student in detention. Please write, and write about everything!


  7. LMH says:

    I need to read your next book. No rush, though. Congratulations for a job well done.


  8. Gary, Congratulations! Can’t wait to see what the next step will be. I’m sure it will present itself and when it does you’ll know right away, “Ah, now this is what I’m supposed to do!” Writing a book? Always a great option, even if nothing comes of it, what a great way to reflect on all of those experiences. Enjoy your summer!


  9. M6B says:

    Oy, Gary! Such good advice and thoughts as you leave us. You really hit a chord with me on the “How can I use this class?” question. So much of my life is based on that question so you are right…what happens when I am also retired and not having that focus anymore? I never thought about that before. That may be my biggest challenge when I leave the classroom–changing that focus. As always, you make me think. Thanks for that and for everything, dear colleague! 🙂


  10. Kathleen R says:

    Well like most of my retired teacher friends, you will probably be just as busy as you are now doing something that makes your heart sing. Enjoy the next adventure!


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