Friday, May 30, 2014


So, last year I took on ‘widow;’ this year I wrap ‘retired’ around my neck. I end 40 years as an English teacher at Kokomo High School in Kokomo, Indiana.

I’ve heard that in some jobs, the human resources department conducts Exit Interviews when a long-time employee retires. I also hear that 'long-time employee’ is a quaint term as so many workers don’t start and retired from the same job.

I don’t think our school had HR when I began; I’m not 100% positive. I was busy teaching. We do now: I know this because we get emails from the administrative assistant to the HR director. So, someone gets paid for this and has enough to do to warrant a secretary.

At any rate, there was no Exit Interview and I’m not sure what the purpose would be. Would someone ask me Why? How? When?  Would someone want my feedback into what is good at KHS and what is less good? Would someone ask my opinion on how to help a new employee get integrated into the team? Would someone even want to know some of my tricks for getting 17-year-olds to eat out of my hand, pleasantly?

As far as I can see, I don’t think my input would be useful. So much has changed in public education since 1973. So so so much has changed in the last 5 years. My ideas, tricks, hints, and so forth probably would not work for someone else. New teachers need to find their own way. It will take time. There’s really no way to rush it. This reality makes it simple to hand my imaginary mantel to the next generation.

I’ve seen several of my friends really struggle with letting go of ‘their classroom,’ ‘their course,’ their ‘way to do.’ We kid ourselves, of course. Those kids and that room are not ours. Veteran teachers sell themselves on the made-up fact that if they don’t show up, education cannot happen. That’s one reason why seasoned faculty come to school with a slight fever and minor bronchitis….no one can do our job. Another wake-up reality is that if the excellent classroom teacher dropped dead (or inherited a sinful amount of wealth), someone else would walk into his classroom, pick up the book…or whatever they are using these days…and teach those kiddies.

We may be important but we are not irreplaceable.

I WAS asked for an interview by the students in the television production class. It was part of the project and my input gave them practice in editing and creating a DVD. As it’s the closest to an HR Exit Interview, I’ll preserve it here.

 I met them on time and was escorted into the studio where one young man focused the camera, one adjusted the lighting and one whipped out the paper with a prepared questions. They asked, among other things, why I had become a teacher. I wish my answer could have been more profound, more inspirational. Alas, it was not, but it was honest.

Why? I was attending a liberal arts college and in 1970’s, the overriding logic was to get a teaching credential so you could get a job. There were many of the liberal arts that did not sink in….philosophy, physics, mathematics…but English. Yes, THAT made sense to me. Literature. Writing. Grammar. Speech. I could master these well enough to teach to someone.

Back then, teacher preparation did not send you into a classroom until near the end of college. You operated on some sort of faith, I guess, that in the end, you’d feel at home. I did. At least one college chum discovered that she hated the public school classroom in April of her senior year. Back then, there weren’t so many alternative choices. I think she ended up working in a bank.

This is so different from today when potential teachers get placed in classrooms throughout their undergraduate years, in part so they can explore different ages and school settings. I think that makes good sense. Personally, I loved having college students come in to observe my classroom. And I really loved when I got to supervise a student teacher, all full of fresh ideas and anxious to try them out in a real setting.

So, I wanted job security. That’s pretty lame and even when the students interviewed me, I knew there was more to it, but it took some reflection to come to the better answer.

The better answer: I belong to God. I’m one of His children. He has had a plan for me. I have been pretty deaf to His whispers. He often has to hit me upside the hay-id to get my attention. Or He leads and lets me think it’s all my idea.

That was my path to teaching. I don’t know when it sunk in that I was walking in God’s will when I chose teaching for a career. “All YOUR idea, hey chickie?” He smiled. Similarly, it was all MY idea to marry that funny, smart red head that I met at Wheaton College. Just as it was MY idea that I go to Wheaton after high school.

I’ve lived long enough to know that many of God’s children actively seek His will in such momentous decisions. I wish I could say that. I cannot. I was much more “Hey, God, this is what I’m doing. Come along if you want.”

I’m much better these days at listening. And recognizing. And acting on those promptings that I know come from my Father. It’s a much better way to navigate this life, secure that you are doing exacting what the Father, who runs the big picture, wants you to do.

Now, as often as I can, I like to step back to observe that path I’ve walked and how God’s guiding was always there, leading me and also protecting me from my own ME-ness. One of the many blessings that He provided to Mike and me was Mike’s opportunity to teach at Ivy Tech…7 semesters! And I was sent back into my high school classroom as it was Mike’s decision that we get back into living a normal life until we couldn’t. We stopped sitting around, waiting for him to die.

At first, in spring 2010, I went back to KHS without any assurance that I would finish the semester; veteran teachers like to finish semesters. I also knew and told Mike that he would no longer have 100% of my attention. To do a good job…and by now, that’s all I could do…would require me to share myself with 145 students. He was ok with that.

And it was great. Really. There are about 1000 kids I would have never gotten to know; that ‘getting to know’ makes my life rich. And blessed.  And happy. AND distracted from the disease. We tried hard to shove the disease way down in our attention.

So, I was back doing my job. All good. And then the blessing. At least 5 times, God showed up big time to let me know I was walking where He wanted me, that I was in my classroom for a specific student. What a privilege. But that’s the thing about the Big Picture…God calls His children to do and go, sometimes when it makes no sense. May I continue to grow in faith to step out and just do and go, without the  meeting.

So, newly retired, I’ve been seeking the next chapter. This year, on leave, has been filled with tasks that needed to be done. Plus, I’ve traveled a lot, visiting important people. Some of these friends came to us through Mike’s illness. I wanted to thank them in person and God has permitted me that opportunity. But I figured that He wants something more out of me than just flitting around having fun. And I’ve asked several close friends to join me in praying for that next chapter.

As old habits die hard, I’ve mentally listed some options. But He is revealing to me a different book entirely. Stay tuned.

What I ask of my praying friends…who were OUR praying friends and continue to care for me in this way… is that I’ll keep my eyes open and my mouth shut as God makes His way clear.

1 comment:

  1. You were (are?) a wonderfully gifted teacher. I can not say that I remember all of my teachers or even most of them. I have never forgotten you, Mrs B. I enjoyed your classes so much. I can honestly tell you that I don't participate in what I call "text speak" because of your classes!! It drives me crazy. Thank you for being exactly who you are to so many of us.