Thursday, January 17, 2008

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Yesterday I mailed (certified, return-receipt-requested) my retirement papers. Whew! Despite the fact that I had quit teaching in 2001, after 20 years in the California public schools, signing the papers to signal the beginning of my pension created an internal shock wave. Images of desks, books, paper, pens, students, colleagues, and the halls of a school I lived in for 20 years flooded my senses. As close as yesterday is to my fingertips, as far away as Vermont to California, memories and moments are like my personal iPhoto album.

I haven't left teaching. I've evolved. Even during my life as a "teacher" in California, I never really settled for one career. I taught courses at colleges, produced workshops, led sessions at conventions, and traveled all over the state to train teachers. Today I am an English professor at Castleton State College in Vermont. AND I LOVE MY WORK.

In no particular order and with nothing but meandering procrastination in mind, here's...

1. LEARNING -- the more I teach, the more I learn. When I was studying for my master's comps in English Lit and Writing (specifically the areas of Romance, Metaphysical, British poets, and American Lit), I decided to teach those poems and pieces of lit that I would need to know. Worked like a dream. Aced the four hour exam. Had fun with my students.

2. ALWAYS NEW -- new semester, new students, new course, new books, new pens, notebooks, files, new ideas, new clothes.... One year I had the sister of a student I had taught the previous year. Same class. I get a call from the parent checking on the assignment. She was worried that her daughter wasn't telling her the truth about the work because it wasn't the same as last year. I told her that I couldn't do the class the same way every year. I'd go bonkers. I love the smell of a new semester!

3. CAMARADERIE-- Working with people who share my love of books, reading, writing, and thinking is like savoring dessert (and not just hot fudge sundaes, although that would be nice) all the time -- but with no calories.

4. PLANNING -- Lesson plans, strategies, calendars spread all over the floor -- I feel like a field marshal. Which leads to....

5. INVIGORATION -- Educators often mention that working with youth keeps us young. Maybe. I know that I get ONE CHANCE for this lesson each semester. One chance to teach parallel structure or indefinite pronouns or sensory imagery. Sure, I may have to repeat myself. But that just means I have to ramp up my delivery and find another approach. Every day is a new challenge.

6. LIGHT BULB MOMENTS -- The first time I stood in the back of a classroom and SAW a student GET IT... wow! that was a moment. He actually had a light bulb in a thought bubble over his head. I am not kidding. Those moments are treasures.

7. THE STUDENTS -- All I can say is... I have stories. Some for tears, some for laughter. Students keep in contact, or don't. I have the Christmas ornaments and refrigerator magnets and yearbooks. College is a little different, but I love the yelling across the halls and the HUGS! (yes, in college we can actually hug the students without a lawsuit... what a deal!)

8. VARIETY -- Different courses to teach. Different methodologies. I like to change. I like hands on. For example, I taught an introductory lit course last semester. I found the sophomores to be more excited by projects than writing papers. Since none were English majors, why labor over "how to write a literature analysis essay?" I listed a variety of projects including posters, art work (one young woman made a gorgeous paper mache dragon during Beowulf), and even a sword fight for the last scene in Hamlet. The final exam consisted of a series of letters written between characters from different books. What fun. I love the variety of approaches, not to mention the variety of responses.

9. ON STAGE -- Okay, I can be a ham. I love working a room. What an adrenaline rush when all the pieces fall into place. I used to train teachers. Those workshops fed my soul. I'd love to do that again. Or start a writing group that meets in my home. Maybe later.

10. FREE BOOKS -- I could not believe the stacks of books sent by publishers. No wonder books cost students so much. Oy. I'm not complaining (well, I am complaining about gouging the students). I gather the texts I don't want, trek digitally to, and upload them for sale. I know, I not supposed to do that. Tsk, tsk. So why do they send me unsolicited books? I do like when I write to the publishers and receive desk copies I really want, plus all the snazzy materials to help teach the class. That is the best part of free books.

11. USING TECHNOLOGY -- I love using the new "smart rooms" -- wow! I'm not so big on Power Point (or in my Mac version.... KEYNOTE, which is better btw). But I love being able to use the laptop on a huge screen, connecting to the internet, and even adding film from a site, like YouTube. Last semester when I was attempting to introduce Irony (oy, that was tough), I used The Onion and The Daily Show right up on the classroom's full screen.

12. THE BIG BUCKS -- ha ha ha ha ha. I cannot even dignify that with a serious face. Don't get me started. Why do pro athletes (and race car drivers) make gazillions while teachers make zilch? Tell me... how far do you get without READING? I salute those teachers of K-3. Amazing what they teach -- so many life skills! And we don't even get health insurance when we retire (I know... I just filed the papers).

13. SUMMER OFF -- Yes... everyone gets so overwrought about teachers and summer vacation. Well, we don't get paid for it. But I do love the holidays, breaks and YES, SUMMER. I had the luxury of never teaching summer school. I used the time to rejuvenate and clear my mind. The better to ready myself for the next challenge.

My new semester starts Wednesday, January 23. I'm EXCITED, like a blank green slate ready for yellow chalk. Who will transform? Who will surprise me? I can't wait!


Gina Ardito said...

Sounds like you found your true calling, Miz Zee. Lucky you. Keep teaching, keep learning, keep collecting books. :-)

Amber Green said...

When I was an undergraduate, my primary ambition was to teach English at a small private college somewhere. What wasn't there to envy? A full time paycheck for what looked like a part time job. Respect. A reserved parking space. Grad students sucking up to me and doing my scutwork.
I coudda been a perfessor.

Zara Penney said...

Zeebee I taught a tiny school in Nigeria. 4th grade and one little kinder. The kinder was with me and learned his whole times table, read and spell in that year because he sat listening and watching. I made learning fun. With drawings. I had no curriculum. I used my own kids to an extent and extended on that. I came to the conclusion that teaching isn't second nature. It's a gift and doing it well is the biggest gift of all. I had it and possibly missed my vocation, but I left these little kids a legacy that will live with them all their lives.
That is what you are doing my darling lady.