485. A Word to Retirees

I don’t own many videos, but I recently bought “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” I have trouble crying, even when I feel tears inside me, and that’s one movie that gets the tears out. Like Mr. Holland, many of us teachers touch many people’s lives in important ways, and yet we can’t help wondering whether we’ve done as much as we think we have. Retirement ceremonies (celebrations? parties?) can’t do the job that needs to be done; if each retiring teacher were given the kind of farewell I wish I’d gotten, a position would have to be created to plan several tributes per year. And since every retiring teacher would get one of these gala events, it might not seem as special anyway.
But many teachers put a lot of themselves into their work. They think about the children they teach when they could be tending to other parts of their lives; instead of stopping to smell the roses, or paying attention to other parts of their lives that merit and/or require attention, they think about the work they do. They want to help the children they teach get ready for what those children hope to do. I see and hear it every day – teachers putting important personal concerns on hold because they are committed to the work that they do.
I don’t mean to provide an alibi for teachers who don’t pay enough attention to their own sons, daughters, spouses, or other concerns. The decision to spend a certain amount of time and energy on one part of your life is a real decision, and if another part of your life suffers because of that decision, the sacrifice is real, whether consciously made or not. Intentions don’t count for much; if you pay attention to your job at times when other parts of your life require attention, you’re the one doing what you’re doing.
There was a time when teachers weren’t allowed to get married. If they did, they lost their jobs. I think the reason for that policy had more to do with the Puritan ethic than with awareness of the degree of commitment required of good teachers, but a lot is required. I know there are teachers who have figured out how to do their jobs well while living the rest of their lives well, too. I never figured out how to be all I wanted to be to all the people who were important to me. Neither have many people I know.
Whether you’re one of those teachers who have figured out how to put all the pieces of your life together, or one (like me) who gave less attention than you wanted to give to some parts of your life so that you could pay more attention to teaching, I hope you (and I) know what important effects you’ve had on the lives of the children you’ve taught. You’re probably not going to find that out at some gala event, but I hope you (we) know it.

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