Freedom’s Just Another Word….

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.

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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.

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21 thoughts on “Freedom’s Just Another Word….”

  1. Since I am newly retired too, it is interesting to hear your feelings about returning. I continued mentoring one teacher this past year, but now I really am done, and also glad to have other things to do. I’m sorry about the testing, have read others’ talk of these ridiculous expectations that punish the students and the teachers both. I worked for an independent school & we did no testing. Your post seems like a final closing of that chapter in your life. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Yes, I think it was a final chapter. I had dreaded going back, so I slipped in and out without having to go through the motions of seeing everyone. It allowed me the mental space to experience the physical space without distraction. I am glad I did it, and glad it’s over.

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  2. As I got to the end of your post, I was feeling for the kid that you are tutoring – LUCKY him/her!! So glad you found a place and a pace where you can use you expertise to help students not perform for a test but be readers and writers for life! Happy Retirement!!

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  3. Who says you can’t go home? It’s strange when you return to places you were part of for so long, but are now not part of. I’m glad you left with a lightness that you don’t have to worry about all those ridiculous things anymore! I know you were an amazing teacher who impacted many and still impact many. Sorry I haven’t been able to be in touch regarding your summer writing idea- it has been just a crazy time. The end of the year is like no other time! Hope we can talk soon.

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    1. It’s always special for me to have your validation because I admire your own teaching so much. I know we will continue to collaborate and I look forward to hearing from you! Hope the end of the year goes well and comes soon!

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  4. It is so sad when testing mandates and administrative red tape force good teachers out. But I have seen it happen many times. I continue to volunteer in the school where I worked, and every time I leave I feel energized by the kids but glad I am free of all the requirements, testing, etc. Much luck to you, and I love your mug!

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  5. Even in the library, I feel the dreaded test anxiety…but more from a distance. I’m sorry it was the definitive detail in your decision to retire. It sounds like you had an amazing career that touched a lot of young lives and left them for the better. Enjoy your much-deserved retirement!

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  6. Teaching used to be a Bachelor of Arts degree because…teaching is an art! Then it was changed to Bachelor of Science where the powers at be think all kids learn equally at the same pace, and every teacher knows that is not the case. How fun to privately tutor one child. 🙂 Glad to hear you have bounced back and that you are enjoying your retirement. I always enjoy reading your posts! Have a lovely day.

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  7. Sigh not over that ‘smart’ board. It is just another constraint…I was the last to have one put into my classroom this past year. It was put right on top of my white board…???
    I am glad that you have freed yourself, that you were able to go back into the building with only temporary pangs, and mostly that you are looking to what is to come next in your life and are not stuck in the past. Best wishes for a lovely day, mon amie!

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  8. Barbara, you captured your ambivalent feelings so well in this post. The nostalgia, the happiness, the wistfulness, and the appreciation of your “new life.” I only wish your final years of teacher would have been happier for you.

    I’m glad we get to take this new journey with you. 🙂

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  9. I am with you in that great club but sadly you didn’t not leave with the respect you earned and deserved. Of course you are missed but what a mess has been made of public ed. You should have left with the awards you deserve.
    Bravo to you and your courage to keep living a full life.

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  10. I am retired now for three years. I went back to “my school” my first year out. Things had changed. I did have a SmartBoard when I left. Like you, I felt that there were unrealistic pressures placed on both teachers and students. I miss my students and colleagues, but not the hassle that teaching has become.

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  11. Sometimes you need to go back to old places (especially old, dear places) to know that some doors are closed, and that closing is for the good. It sounds like a a sweet visit though – it did for you what you needed it to do.

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  12. Barbara, your post was filled with a descriptive view of your reentry into school life and exit with thoughts that you are on the right path now. Isn’t it amazing how fast our lives change? I am glad that you recovering from your ordeal of being of being categorized by test scores. How could an ESL teacher meet the state mark with students who are struggling with the language let alone the content. Your mug puts you in a better place so leave the past behind and tip your hat to a brighter future.

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    1. It is amazing how fast our lives can change, but it’s also amazing that we can devote ourselves to one career for decades if we choose to do so. It is definitely time for me to seek new adventures, new friends, like yourself.
      Thanks for being a loyal commenter!

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