Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On Thinking And Teaching And Retiring

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that I think too much.  While I'm not sure what would prompt that admonition, I do know that it continued long into my teen years. 

These days, when the weather here in NEO has turned cooler, greyer, and wetter, I am prone to introspection.  My tendency is also to cocoon.  Piper and Marlowe don't do much to discourage this behaviour; they're drowsy and inclined to curl up on my lap or in their beds and only animate themselves if I am up and busy.  There is always a Project, or Light Domestic Goddessing, or Something To Do.  I have some writing jobs, paid and pro bono, the latter for charities and people I care about. When I do go out for errands, the cats are accusatory and reproachful upon my return.  Only when they see I am staying home for a while do they accept me back into their good graces.

I'm often asked if I have regrets about retiring.  The short answer is No.  My dear Aunt Shirley, herself a retired English teacher, counseled me way back in July to take a short trip the week school started.  "You'll need to be away," she said knowingly.  "Trust me. You don't think you'll miss it, but you will.  You need to be away when it starts back up so you won't feel strange."  Well, I didn't and I don't. I left at just the Right Time for me.

I am often asked if I miss Teaching--in my mind, a different question entirely.  The answer is very complicated, so I usually answer, "Oh, sometimes."  My teacher friends never ask me.  They already know. 

I do not miss the Not Teaching part:  incessant record keeping, phone calls home to parents of highschoolers, labyrinthine office procedures, unreliable copy machines, being informed that the internet is down via email, baffling administrative protocols, and the constant disrespect by government--and, oh hell, let's throw society in there, too--at every level. 

But every so often, I do miss the Teaching part.  I treasured being the Giver Of Literature to my students.  It was with true reverence that I gave them the work of Walt Whitman (America's first hippie); that I introduced them to the genius of Miss Emily (Dickinson).  Who else will enlist empathy and champions for poor, motherless (for all intents and purposes) Holden Caulfield? Who else will defend the honor of Edgar Allan Poe and beg the students to look, look deep into his eyes before they read his work, before they dismiss him as some drunk crazy who married his teenaged cousin?

And I miss working with Creative Writing students the most. Words and writing are my passion, and there was an electric satisfaction, a sort of inspirational symbiosis that occurred when I sat down in conference with my writers those many years.  I felt simultaneously rejuvenated and drained by them. It was a glorious paradox, and those decades were Golden Privilege.  This year, Creative Writing is not even offered, and it breaks my heart.

So much of Teaching--True Teaching--is a Gift. I have it, I gave it, and I got it in return.  Like many gifts, it wasn't always perfect, and there were times when I wondered if the recipients were deserving. But let's not belabor the metaphor.  Or...think too much about it.

Instead, I have a little jaunt to get ready for and some PR stuff to write.  And the head of cauliflower in the crisper won't clean, cut, season, and roast itself as part of tonight's dinner.  It might be a good idea to update our Cellar Inventory, too. Allow me a small indulgence:  to leave you with my good friend, Walt.


  1. There is, indeed, a lack of respect for educators, for learning for learning's sake, in both government and society. Sigh.

    I have the Gift, too, and I continue to give it as best I can. I am so glad you walked away at the right time! My father did the same thing when he retired from public service (law enforcement), and he never looked back.

    If I could travel through time, I would love to sit in on some of your classes, to receive the gift of literature as you describe. I would LOVE to have been in your Creative Writing class! My eyes grew misty reading this, no lie. Gift received :-)

    I also raise a glass to Paul Krugman!

  2. Such Nances are dangerous.

  3. Mikey G.5:56 PM

    Those of us who teach never stop when we leave our classrooms. I'm sure you'll still find yourself teaching someone something. Maybe not for five hours a day, but it happens.

  4. You are so right. The mundane stuff that goes with the job gets me down, but never the actual teaching. And I agree with Mikey who said you'll teach something, somewhere, somehow. Meanwhile, carry on. . . .

  5. I had the pleasure of taking a creative writing course in high school and it was by far my favorite. I'd give my right arm to have taught a creative writing class, but, alas, my teaching took a different direction (and language, lol.) The most fun I had in grad school was attempting a short story in Spanish imitating the style of another author. I chose García Márquez, which was very cheeky, and also immense fun, since I did not lose any sleep over even coming close to mastering realismo mágico, but rather immersed myself in the magic of Cándido's halo.

    And speaking of magic: thanks for that lovely slice of Walt. His words are almost more relevant today than when he wrote them.

  6. That's just lovely. Such a nice meaty piece. You still teach well.

  7. Mage--Thank you. (And somewhere, Walt thanks you, too.)

    Ortizzle--I still continue to believe that good teachers are born, not made in college. How lovely that you were able to write creatively in GRAD SCHOOL! That professor really knew how to get some multi-level skills/thinking out of his/her students in a very sneaky way. And I'm glad you enjoyed that bit of WW. Of the entire collection of "Songs of Myself", that one really encapsulates for me not only what he was trying to do but what I always tried to do in my career.

    Rose--It's such a frustration all around, isn't it? I don't want to ever do The Whole Teaching Thing again. I have graded my last paper and written my last hall pass. How about someone just pays me to stand up and pontificate about diction in The Great Gatsby or the themes in The Crucible? Hee hee.

    Mikey G.--Is that a threat? ;-)

  8. Mary G.--Ah, that lean and hungry Cassius! Do you know, back in my earlier career days, I taught that play so often that I have it almost completely memorized? I feel like I am a character in "Fahrenheit 451." My colleague and I used to have our students say a line from JC, and we'd start reciting from there. The kids would follow along in their texts. Then we'd really blow their heads off by telling them the Act, scene, and character(s). I've also got most of The Crucible now, too.

    Carolina Linthead (Your Majesty!)--Thank you so much for your kind words here, especially from a fellow in the trenches and another Ohioan who is watching the outcome of Issue 2. Why, after the "Wall Street" shenanigans of the past four years, public servants have been demonized, I will never know. I feel like I am the only one who isn't on some sort of hallucinogenic substance put into our water supply by the Kochs, Roves, Faux News, and their ilk.

    But on a more pleasant note, I would have loved to have had you in CW. You and Bug love to write and you both embrace challenges and have a wealth of experience from which to draw. (And we would have had so much fun!)

  9. "I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
    And what I assume you shall assume,
    For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

    I loafe and invite my soul,
    I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

    Walt and I both wish for you a happy retirement where you can relax,lie in the Sun and watch the grass grow.

  10. I'm more than a bit chagrined to say that I've not read any Whitman before. What a lovely poem. I think I'll get the whole thing from the library.

    I like the quote from Krugman on your sidebar as well. Asshats think they're on top because they're so damn much smarter than the rest of us. I want to slap them to sleep, as my Grandma would say.

    I truly admire those with the gift of teaching. My mom, my sister, my brother in law, several great grandparents...and my husband. But not me. I can't even help my daughter with her homework without losing my mind, and the idea of someone depending on me being able to communicate what they need to know gives me the willies. Hats off to all of the wonderful teachers in the world. And a kick in the pants to those who take them for granted. And a kick in the pants to the crummy teachers, too, because we've all had a few. I'm happy to say I've had far more really good teachers than crummy ones.

  11. j@jj--Of course we've all had teachers who were less than effective. Think of the sheer numbers of teachers who cross the paths of the average student in his/her lifetime. Isn't it incredible? And it's such a human career: intense interaction on a daily basis, mucking about in the minds of each other. If it's a bad day on either end, look out. You know, coming from a family of educators. On another note, I'm so glad to have introduced you to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." It's his seminal poem, really. He was trying to create a truly American take on Homer's Odyssey. He wanted to capture the American journey as well as his own journey as an American and a poet. There are over 50 "Songs" during which the poet (Walt, really) "tramps his perpetual journey"--travels all throughout time, history, and awakens to Nature and then, finally, dies and becomes one with Nature and therefore, divine.
    My students loved that Walt, in Song 1, said that he was going to finally start living at age 37. Ah, Walt! So ahead of his time, and so full of contradictions, just like America, always.

    Nancy--Oh, I do a lot of loafing and observing, believe me. I feel like the Dept. has the first couple of stanzas pretty well covered! And don't you think Walt would have mightily approved of my FuckIt List? hee hee. BTW--did you know that President Clinton loved the work of Walt Whitman? And Walt was a very devoted admirer of President Lincoln. Consider me inspired.

  12. Yes, I knew about Walt and his admiration of President Lincoln.

    "O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
    The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
    The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
    While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart! 5
    O the bleeding drops of red,
    Where on the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

    I didn't know about President Clinton's admiration of Walt Whitman,though.But, I'm not surprised. Who wouldn't love Walt Whitman? We even named the biggest bridge in Philadelphia after Walt.

  13. Donnelly.
    This is Kali - creative writing at The Rock - and a little birdie told me a while back about your Dept. of One.
    Every once in a while I've been checking in, and this post nearly brought me to tears. Creative writing with you was one of the best classes I ever had. Not exaggerating. You brought out the best in us (and sometimes the worst!) with your ever-present wit and encouragement. That class comes back to haunt me often as I try, fail, and try again at writing something that isn't total crap. I am humbled to think I learned from such a marvelous and inspiring teacher.

  14. Above Parallel--Kali! What a lovely, lovely thing to say. I am completely thrilled and gratified to hear that you continue to write. You must--you have an incredible talent, a gift that must never be wasted. Please keep in touch--here, or grab my email from the sidebar link--and let me know how Things are going at school as you pursue your musical education. I think of you often, as I do so many of my writers. My very best to your dear mother. And write, write, WRITE. Your poetry is extraordinary always. Thanks for stopping by, and please comment often.


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