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An End--and a Beginning

The close of another school year is upon us. During my 19 years of teaching, I experienced the end of school enough to know firsthand both the excitement of the students and the relief of the teachers on that last day of school.

Students don't realize it, but teachers get tired of school, too. While students were complaining about a little homework, their teachers were grading papers, calculating grades, planning lessons, and engaging in seemingly endless administration-assigned tasks that the students never saw. Simultaneously, they also were trying to have a successful family life. It's hard to juggle the myriad professional and personal tasks at the same time, but teachers usually manage to do it.

So teachers, too, get excited when that last day of school rolls around. It means they can spend more time with their families, recuperate from the energy-sapping activities of school-related tasks, and refresh themselves with some vacation time. Many will garden or engage in other hobbies. Some will work at summer jobs to supplement their income.

Been there. Done that. Many times.

But this year, it's going to be different for my wife and me. This year is the last time my wife will end the school year, take a couple of weeks to rest, and then begin preparing for next school year. She has decided to retire.

For the last few years, she has wondered when she would retire. Seeking the advice of former teachers with whom she had worked, asking them how they knew it was time, she kept hearing the same response: "You'll know!"

As 2022 dawned, she knew. Today is her final day. Her students went home after the awards ceremony yesterday. Today has been a clean-up and check-out day for the teachers.

In addition to packing up and storing books, equipment, and other school-owned items with her colleagues, this year she is packing up and bringing home the things that belong to her. (How did she ever accumulate so much stuff?!) Some things she'll toss in the trash, no longer useful to anyone. Other things she'll offer to one of our daughters who is also a teacher. Maybe she can find a use for them. The rest she'll try to sell. "Surely somebody can use it! I hate to get rid of it."

Thus ends what began for her right out of college. (Well, not immediately after college. After all, we did have to get married first! The photo to the left shows us right after graduation and a couple of months before our wedding.)

Her first classroom assignment was in Goldsboro, North Carolina. First grade. I was teaching junior high history. We both started from scratch with no more than youthful idealism and zeal. Reality hit us both that year! Together, we spread poster board, cloth, felt, markers, and other assorted supplies over the floor and set out to construct bulletin boards and classroom signs and posters. Every night, we graded papers together and prepared lessons.

Later, it was Pennsylvania, where my wife took hiatus while birthing and rearing our daughters. But even then she couldn't be kept from the classroom. She became a substitute teacher in K-12, wherever she was needed. (Conveniently, her parents lived nearby and could babysit the girls.) I wasn't sick very often, but when I was, I loved to have her as my substitute. My students were better for her than they were for me. She made them toe the line!

When the opportunity arose for us to return to Tennessee, she again hopped eagerly into the classroom. Second grade, first grade, and kindergarten. (Not all in the same year!) Then she decided to homeschool our daughters, and she did so for 13 years.

That was in the early years of the homeschool movement. Not many families were doing it. Most people didn't understand it. Even grandparents feared for their granddaughters' futures. "How will they learn to socialize?!" they worried. "Will they be able to get into college?" They forgot that their daughter was an experienced and imaginative teacher. She would ensure that they succeeded.

Time passed, and all four daughters not only graduated high school but also were accepted in and graduated from college with their bachelor's degrees. None of them has the least trouble socializing in the broader world. Each has succeeded in her chosen career: a nurse, a teacher, a banker, and an administrative project manager. And I attribute much of that success to their teacher, my wife.

When the two youngest daughters went to college in South Carolina, their parents followed them. My wife was again teaching. First grade again. She must have been a slow learner, I teased her, because it took her five years to get promoted to second grade. And that's where she's been for the last 13 years.

But now, she says, "It's time." And so she officially ends her teaching career today. Among the various gifts her colleagues gave her was a crystal pitcher on the side of which are etched the following words, which fit her precisely:

Thank you for pouring yourself into teaching.

And she did. It was her life.

Good teachers do that as a matter of course.

Happy retirement, Hon! I hope you can put up with me as you stay home while I try to pour myself into my writing. I pray you can be as patient with me as you were with all your students over those 43 years!

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