Education Opinion

Past Tense

By Susan Graham — August 30, 2011 2 min read
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I teach.
I taught.
I will teach.

Not any more. As of today I lost two of those verb tenses. I’m down to I taught. School started yesterday and I’m not there. I am retired.

For the first time in twenty-three years, I did not carefully lay out my “back to school” outfit the night before. I did not double check the alarm clock--worried that I wouldn’t get up on time. I did not have a knot in the pit of my stomach like an actor on opening night. I did not stand on the bus ramp helping students find their way to their homeroom. I did not try out how to pronounce names. I did not distribute the required course syllabus. I did not reassure any sixth graders that it’s okay that they don’t know how to read a schedule or open a locker. I did not monitor the back hall as the buses loaded at the end of the day. Today I did not teach. Tomorrow I will not teach. I taught for twenty-eight years. Past tense. Today was the first day that I really and truly realized that I am retired and that I teach and I will teach are no longer in my lexicon of common usage.

I’m not sorry. It was time to go. I wanted to leave while I still loved it and while students and colleagues still said, “Oh no, are you really going to retire?” I’m not through with education; there are still a lot of opportunities to work with teachers and on policy. But I am keenly aware of how much I will miss watching children evolve into young adults in my classroom and my role in cultivating their minds. I find I am asking myself, “Did it matter? Will anyone remember?”

John Steinbeck was in his 50’s when,remembering his teacher, he wrote;

She left her signature upon us. The literature of the teacher who writes on children's minds. I've had many teachers who taught us soon forgotten things, But only a few like her who created in me a new thing, a new attitude, a new hunger. I suppose that to a large extent I am the unsigned manuscript of that teacher. What deathless power lies in the hands of such a person.

From the first time I read those words, I knew that was the teacher I wanted to be. I want my former students to approach the everyday tasks of living as creative expressions rather than mundane chores. I want them to remember to appreciate the application of knowledge in living; to see food, shelter and clothing as expressions of beauty and statements of their individuality

In the grocery store, in the doctor’s office, with their own children in tow, former students confront me asking

“Do you remember me?”

Yes, I do.

And I am affirmed--It mattered. I left my signature is on them in some way. But I’ve come to realized that while I was hoping to write myself into their lives, each of them has signed the manuscript of my career. They have done more than written their names, they have written the story of my life work.

I am no longer a classroom teacher; that chapter of my of my life is closing. But I will not linger in the past tense. There are new challenges and new opportunities. And who knows how the story will end?

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.