I recently visited my former school where I taught English as a Second Language for 22 years. I haven’t been back for two years, the most significant reason being that within two months of my retirement I was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. This past year I have begun to reclaim my life and this month I had the perfect reason to return: I needed some teaching materials for tutoring an ESL Beginner and was going there to borrow them from the teacher who replaced me.
I made arrangements to arrive at the school at the end of the school day. As I pulled alongside the curb under the shady tree where I had parked for several years before I retired, it felt like I had never left. Everything about the outside of the school was exactly the same, including the giant oak tree which stood right outside my window and I lovingly dubbed “my tree.” This back entrance I had used during my final years because it was right next to my classroom. My colleague suddenly appeared and we embraced. It had been two years since I had last seen her.
Going into the building was like stepping back in time. There was a hush in the hallway where my room had been because most of the teachers had already left for the day. My previous classroom was now occupied by a third grade teacher; I peeked in through the door window and felt a poignant pang. I loved that room; it was so peaceful and spacious with bold touches of red on the floor and walls.
We proceeded to my colleague’s classroom. Stepping into her room I was struck by how familiar it all seemed. It resembles classrooms across the country which are set up in much the same way. The first thing I noticed is that she has a Smart Board. This is an interactive screen which affords a teacher a myriad of ways to teach using technology. When I left, I was still using markers on a white board. No one had offered me a Smart Board. Sigh.
Next I noticed the charts around the room that reflect the topics and strategies the teacher has been focusing on. I saw my board games stacked on a couple of shelves and a cart full of Big Books I had left behind. As I examined and touched each item it all seemed so vividly familiar to me. I was glad to see my replacement still had four PC computers available to her students; she uses a lot of technology-based activities with them.
We gathered my materials, put them into containers, carried them out to my car and went to have an early dinner together at a nearby diner, another place I used to haunt. As we pulled away from the school I felt a bit nostalgic. The strongest feeling I had, however, was that I was so glad to be free of the constraints that made my final years of teaching not so fulfilling or rewarding.
It is an impossible task to make ESL students meet the new standards and score well on the state tests as quickly as the state expects them to. My evaluations took a nose dive because my students performed poorly on the tests. I went from being an award-winning ESL teacher to being labeled a “Developing Teacher.” It was a losing battle and I am glad to be free of it.
I loved my students and I loved being an ESL teacher. I gave it my all for 22 years, but it’s time to enjoy the rest of my life.