Let me back up a little. I was a career secondary school teacher (English and History) for 34 and a half years. Fell into it as a career path quite unexpectedly (as I pondered what to do after my BA in Political Science, a dear friend asked me one night if I’d ever considered teaching, because she thought I’d be pretty good at it). Loved it (most of the time). False modesty aside, was damned good at it (according to most of my students). Made a difference (informed so by many students and colleagues).
But the last few years, I’ve noticed deeply disturbing changes creeping in to pedagogy like a termite infestation, gnawing away on the foundations until the entire structure is now dangerously unstable. These changes emanate from well-meaning but ignorant/naive principals, superintendents, university professors, and elected politicians, most of whom have either: (a) never actually stood in front of at least 35 hormonal adolescents shoehorned into a dilapidated classroom where the ambient temperature is that of a Turkish bath, attempting to impart a pearl or two of wisdom; or (b) conveniently chosen to completely forget the experience because it was too traumatic, leading them to flee the classroom for administration. The changes lie in noticeably watering down --- on the verge of eliminating --- academic and behavioural standards, and instituting extremely questionable new philosophies that cumulatively seem to ensure we’ll have a generation of kids who never experience failure, have no idea how to cope with it, and possess no adaptive, resiliency, or creative problem-solving skills. It’s my countercultural position this all does kids a massive disservice, and in good conscience I couldn’t be a party to it. So, it became very obvious to me it was time to go. (Even more obvious when I involuntarily blurted in frustration to an assistant principal that I couldn’t work in this cockamamie environment, and informed my principal that while I respected her as a person, as far as philosophy was concerned, thought she and her colleagues all insane. BTW, those were the words I used; I had something of a reputation among my colleagues for speaking my mind.) So, yeah, definitely time to hang up the old whiteboard markers.
Now, I don’t intend today’s epistle to degenerate (any more than it has already) into a vitriolic diatribe against a system I passionately believe has collectively lost its sanity and its way, to the profound detriment of our kids, so before I wind myself up into a truly righteous lather of literary fury (don’t mince words, Ranshaw, what do you really think?), that’s enough background for one day. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
Instead, let’s return to last Thursday and its realization: I’ve been retired from teaching for a year. An entire year. Do I miss it? Yeah, definitely… the most important parts. I miss the kids. I miss the teaching. I miss moments you see lightbulbs go on over their heads. I miss laughter and discussions. I miss bringing a new concept into the classroom, figuratively holding it up, and saying to kids, “See this? Let’s examine this a while. Look at it from this angle… now this angle. What do you see? What do you think?”
I don’t miss the politics, irrational demands of parents, administrators and education officials, the million required bureaucratic tasks that don’t do anything to help kids, endless marking, the sheer impossibility of what we’re asked as educators to do (even more so this dumpster-fire pandemic year). But if I could dispense with all that crap and just teach kids without interference, I’d likely still be sitting on the Command Stool (their name, not mine) in front of them.
What changes have taken place in my life? Well, obviously, stress levels have declined enormously. I’m not mentally/physically perennially tired anymore. Life has slowed down, become far less frenetic. Creativity has gone way up, which is most welcome but hardly surprising, once one is no longer being sucked dry by an impersonal system that would put the Borg Collective to shame. As a writer, I like to think I haven’t so much retired as changed careers. I write --- currently two works in progress, one of them the sequel to my first novel, that I have every intention of eventually publishing in some format. I read. I work on my model railway. I game. I go on walks. I continue plotting world domination (just kidding). I wait for my wife to join me in retirement. I’ve taken over much of the cooking, discovering a number of creative new recipes. I enjoy little things, simple things, like coming down to the kitchen each day at lunch, making my lunch then (instead of the night before), and sitting down for a full hour or so to leisurely eat, read, drink a pot of tea, and relish the peace and quiet. And as far as the pandemic has gone thus far, I have to admit, as an introverted retiree, it’s really not affected my lifestyle much. In short, with reference to Oliver Wendell Holmes, I play, and enjoy many things I didn’t have time or energy for when teaching the Great Unwashed.
It’s rather like Sir John Lubbock once said: “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
So, ‘scuse me… gotta go look at some clouds.