This came in my private email:
As many of you know, I just retired from teaching, having spent most of my career in first grade. Over the last few years, my teaching had become gradually more restricted. Instead of running a center-based day, I was required to run scheduled periods of Fundations, Writing Workshop, Reading Workshop, and (this year) of Envision math. To encourage me to retire, my district had made a financial offer that was difficult to refuse. Almost simultaneously, my daughter had announced that she was pregnant with twins. The decision became easier and easier. As the pressures in New York State increased, I decided what I wanted to do after retire: support families, fight the tests, tutor children to learn DESPITE the tests. That would mean running workshops for parents about curriculum. But that’s not what I want to write about tonight. I want to tell you about my last few weeks of teaching, and about my last good lesson.
The district isn’t replacing me next year due to shrinking numbers. Once I announced my retirement, the vultures began to circle – teachers seeking furniture, leveled books, left over supplies. (All of a sudden, my hoarding had value!) Gradually, my room became emptier and emptier. You’d have thought that my teaching would have suffered, but — I LOVED IT, AND SO DID THE KIDS!!! Painting, gluing, research, math projects; WE ALL RELISHED THE CHANGE! It was a very special time – though teary, for some. I’m not sure why my retiring should result in so many sad children (since I wouldn’t have been their teacher the following year), but there you have it.
Driving to school on my last full day, I thought about what I could teach that day in my empty classroom. All I had was art paper, scotch tape, and crayons. The kids had already taken home their markers. I thought about how I could say good-bye. I wanted to help them gain some perspective. I wanted them to know they had each other. (I’d already told them they could email.) I thought about how our paths had crossed and come together so arbitrarily, but how being together in this class had changed all our lives. And then I knew what I’d do!
I gave each child one piece of 12″ x18″ paper. I told them that each child was to draw a path across the paper. It could be straight across or curved or jagged – whatever. We agreed that the paths would be about a fist wide, and had to be drawn in purple. The rest of the paper was to be decorated with whatever else they thought might have been on their paths this year.
Everyone did as I requested after a few false starts. Some of the drawings were quite thoughtful and charming. I then told the kids that we were now going to connect our paths together. I was having a small get together that night, and I told the children we needed something on the wall. Immediately, some of the kids became excited, and tried to put their papers together. I suggested that the kids get on the floor and connect their paths like a puzzle, assemble their work on the floor, and that we’d move it to the wall later. I’d never done this activity before, and had no idea how it would turn out. Over the course of the next half hour, I kept telling myself: Remember, it’s process over product.
As the kids worked, I gradually stepped back. The children were making decisions about which paths connected, which looked best together, which should be moved to a different spot. There were no arguments, even though there were differences of opinion. I handed the kids scotch tape dispensers as needed. I mentioned to one little boy that it was great that there were no fights. He said to me, “Well, remember when I invented a game for the playground and then we all had a fight because I wanted to make all the rules? Remember how you explained to me how a true leader doesn’t make all the rules, but helps others to join in? Well – maybe that’s what we’ve all been doing.”
I was absolutely floored.
That’s when I knew how much I’d miss teaching. That feeling of molding a group and helping them become better together than singly – that’s amazing.