As I am sitting here in my sixty-eight degree surroundings and see the snow capped piles in the distance through my living room window, I ponder what today might have been like had I been still working for the language lab company. This week the conference was in Florida, next week in Texas.
Most assuredly I would have donned a suit and spoken to hundreds of people as I worked the conference in Orlando. As nice as Orlando is, it is not my favorite Florida venue, and Florida, in fact, is not my favorite warm weather place. I would have been nice seeing my ASC colleagues, especially George Washington. I would then have gone this week to Texas, probably Austin, to work that crowd. I truly enjoy travelling and working with educators so that would have been fun. That was not meant to be and I do believe that something is around the corner for me, so we shall see.
Pretirement has been an interesting part of my life. I miss teaching, I miss the camaraderie with the great students and my wonderful colleagues, but I do not miss the hassles. I do not miss grading papers, although I could easily get back into that, it wasn’t my biggest issue. I do not miss the bureaucracy and the myriad of add on jobs that occurred during my thirty plus years’ career. People have absolutely no idea how much school functionaries are put upon by the changes in philosophies and progress in educational thinking. What I really don’t miss is the politics and the silliness that it brought into our daily lives. To me these things are totally unnecessary and only made our jobs harder.
Recently, on Facebook, a former student, or should I explain, a former acquaintance student of mine contacted me about this blog. She told me she was remiss in not having contacted me sooner to tell me that she enjoyed the blog. She said that she enjoyed the poignancy of my feelings in the entries I have posted so far.
She also mentioned that she would love to have my reaction to the atmosphere within the Modern and Classical Languages department that had pretty much adopted her, during her time at New Trier. She was truly the departmental mascot. That is one of the reasons why I knew her. In my stay at New Trier I have gotten to know far more than my own personal students. Alison was the “advisee” of my good friend and colleague, Adrienne. She was a student of Japanese, not French. I knew her because of her association with my good friend. Alison, like many of our students and advisees, was omnipresent in the office, searching us out to talk, to discuss, to confide, to connect. That is what so many of us as teachers and advisers were all about. We did it because, frankly, we were on a mission. We were not always sure whether we were born with that mission or turned to it from New Trier, but I am convinced that it was both of those reasons. Not only was it our mission and our calling, but we reveled in the wonderful communications and experiences we had.
Adrienne is the consummate French teacher and also the consummate teacher as well. She is very interested in her subject area and teaches it with the highest professionalism possible. I say teaches, because she is still teaching although “retired.” I would say that she is truly “pretired” as I am. She was all about the kids, she is all about the career that she took on and espoused; lives, eats, and still breathes to this day. She is a hard worker, a motivator, and the most caring person you could ever meet. The day she retired was a tough one for me since I could no longer count on seeing her on a daily basis for the moral sustenance that we all crave as we do our daily jobs. That made my subsequent years at New Trier harder.
Adrienne and I not only worked together on the Winnetka campus, she even accompanied me on trips to France as we “shepherded” kids through a Homestay/Exchange program. She and I became “Mom and Dad” to so many kids as we studied, worked, and traveled together. I could always count on Adrienne to work with anyone and everyone because no matter what, she cared. I can also say, with total objectivity, that although she was revered in the halls of the Winnetka campus, she deserved to be on a much higher pedestal than she was, for all the good she did.
Adrienne and I had been through some very tough times while at the school. We had lived through and dealt with a Caligula-like department chairman who attempted to make our lives very difficult at times. The office that Alison speaks of so fondly was not a pleasant place to be. We were stressed, we were under the gun, we knew that the proverbial shoe could drop at any moment and we would be subjected to moods and reactions that we never deserved. We lived through it and we pride ourselves on the fact that despite the enormity of the bad situation we endured, our students were never aware that it was occurring. In fact, they are the ones I credit with our having gotten through the stress and trauma. Having them as our focus allowed us to deal with the extremely unpleasant man who was our supposed superior, inflicting his mean-spirited whims on those of us in the office that he had singled out unjustly. I remember oh so fondly the days that he wasn’t present in the office, for some reason, and how the curtain of unpleasantness was lifted. I also remember the joy when we heard of his impending retirement and how he pretty much disappeared almost completely from view unlike others who had retired. We had obviously been justified in our dislike for him and our lack of appreciation and understanding for the job he was doing.
Alison showed up during a time period of healing. I remember talking to the person who became the new department chairman and saying to her that she mustn’t mistake our anxiety in being called into the office as being due to something she had done, but instead realize it was an almost Pavlovian response to what we had been through with her predecessor.
Things were never really the same after Cecil’s departure, but they did, most assuredly get better. Alison saw the real “us” as we were able to freely go about our jobs and welcome all into the office. The office had always appeared as a “haven” of sorts even during Cecil’s tenure, we had always had wonderful food and snacks to share. Those of us who were “persecuted” never really allowed anyone else to suffer (except for, in my case, my poor family!) and the students were, as I said, never aware. Once Cecil was gone, we set about to “recover” and be our normal selves. I recall so many students who made daily visits to us. I so remember the wonderful, brilliant, young student who was having parental issues and how she would visit me daily and we would discuss rationally what needed to be done. I remember telling her to get a calendar and set up to countdown the days until her graduation. She did so, she graduated, she is well on the way to achieving so much and she is going into education. She is one of many that we were able to reach and help.
The office that Alison came into was not a huge space but it contained well over thirty people. I am not saying, in this entry, that all of my colleagues were on the same page as Adrienne and I were, but for the most part, they were very good people. There always were a certain number of people who, since having been placed on the good list during the bad years, never really could understand the pain we were undergoing. They were so happy at their situations that they almost refused to see what was really going on.
It hurts so much when people try to denigrate the job that teachers are doing. I know that teaching, like any profession, is going to have some people who are not performing as they should. I know as well, that so many of them are performing so far above and beyond what they are paid to do and just don’t get the recognition. I know this personally from so many discussions I have had during the years and these discussions have been with acquaintances and family alike. I know that some say that the tenure process and unions for teachers are a problem. I know as well that had I not had tenure that I would have been in some hot water for a short time during my career since I had a supervisor who decided that he was going to try to make my life difficult.
So, in the end, I am so thankful to people like Alison and Adrienne because they are so representative of my experience in the teaching world which is so rewarding and oh so memorable. It is so nice to be touched by having worked with people like these and receiving oh so much from them. That was one heck of a career. And hey, I am pretired, so on it goes!