The Last Semester

The Christmas decorations have come down and winter cold has set in. It’s the last semester of my existence, in a very literal and non-metaphorical sense. Come May 18, never more will I measure segments of my time in “semesters”. It will be the first time in 55 years!

The first semester of my life was in Kindergarten when, as we returned from winter break, I was moved from attending a half day during the morning session to the afternoon session. Mind-blowing! Semester changes in high school were significant as new elective classes took the place of the ones in fall. Always fun and interesting! But it was the college semesters, all 14 of them, that were most transformational; with changes in not only classes, but also in daily schedules, content, expectations, fellow students, buildings, and faculty. Now, for the past 36 years of classroom teaching, each semester has identified with their own traits of change; mainly students and class schedule. This being more so, of course, when teaching at the high school level.

Within every semester, seasons came and seasons went. The seasons, significant as they were, always took second place in measure of impact to my my daily routines. No matter the temperature and form of precipitation, semester expectations ruled each and every day.

So, as I jump into this last school semester, I will enjoy each and every school day and know that, come June, changes in my daily routine will come; not in one scheduled day, but throughout the changes of season. It will be the dip into cold, the returning wren’s song, and the length of daily sunlight that will serve as my “semesters”. They alone will dictate new and exciting expectations of gardening, travelling, and outdoor activity. Some daily routines will remain, but on my schedule and priority.



The $1000 Letter of Resignation

As I walked into the district office building, letter of resignation in hand, I couldn’t help but sense the overwhelming signifigance of each and every step through the parking lot that led up to the door. This was it! The first official step to retirement. I already notified members of my department, the principal, and a few close colleagues of my intent, but this signed letter was going to make it all official.

So why is that important? For one thing, the secrecy of our intent (my wife is turning in her letter today as well) will be out. We went into this past summer with our minds pretty well made up, but still wondering if it was the right thing to do. We had given ourselves an entire semester to come to a decision one way or another and we didn’t want to tell anyone of our unrealized plans until we knew for sure. Now our decision could be openly shared. No more, when asked the question of “So when are you two retiring?” would the prepared “We’re not sure yet” be the response. With joy and certainty, I proclaim, “This is our last year!”.

The second reason as to why the officialdom of the signed letter is important right now is because of the $1000 incentive they pay out for each quitter who submits their signed notice by January 1st. That’s $2000 for the two of us. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it will stay pay for a tandem kayak, stand up paddleboard, and Go Pro camera. Either that or a hundred rounds of golf or two trips to Florida. Now it sounds like a lot!

So now it’s official. We are both retiring at the end of this school year… officially!

The Last Last Day of Fall Semester

Winter Break is here! The kids are all excited – some about Christmas, some about getting two weeks off, and some about the last day itself. The last day, as it’s called even though there’s another whole semester of classes waiting for them when they get back in early January, is a day of finals and treats. It’s anything but business as usual, and that’s what makes it special.

Once again, I go out the night before and load up my shopping cart with $10 holiday tins of popcorn, bottles of pop, chips and dips, crackers, pastries, and cheese. We snack throughout the day between final lessons and reviews. Yet once again, I have overestimated the gluttony of teenagers, sending half of the remaining items home with willing volunteers at the end of the day.

So this is it. My last last day of fall semester. My last day of  having a Christmas tree decorated by friends, not by self and family. My last day of trying to convince the procrastinators to get those missing assignments in to save those fall semester credits teetering at 60%. My last day of leading a group of excited teens in counting down the days to a holiday break, not the holiday itself.

Interestingly enough, this last day is the starting gun for one final semester. One that I look forward to as being like this last day, anything but business as usual.

Here’s our classroom tree, decked out with science lab equipmentimage


My Last Repressed Fall

Most teachers will agree that having 3 months “off” is a nice perk of the profession. That break is kind of like a temporary and teasing rehearsal for what it must be like to be retired. However, between taking classes, teaching summer school, and teaching driver’s education, I haven’t really had a summer “off” in quite some time. That’s the same story with most other teachers. It’s one of those publicly unrealized truths about our profession. However, it’s still a break and nice to have.

Unfortunately, this time “off” only falls in the summer. I am not a big fan of summer; with all of the mosquitoes, grass mowing, exhaustive heat, humidity, and perspiration. There are times in the summer when the extreme conditions force us all to flee the outdoors and hole up in repressive air conditioned quarters; sometimes for the whole day.

Fall is different. Every day is an outdoors day, and usually all day long! The temperatures are just right, the grass stops growing, the biting insects go back to the purgatory where they belong, and I don’t have to take 2 to 3 showers to get through the day. The worst part of fall, however, is that with the start of school, I’m once again trapped indoors. Trapped and surrounded by hundreds of sniffling vectors during cold and flu season. Trapped indoors, where the air is artificial and the constraints on activities-of-choice are many. Trapped inside four walls while temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s beckon me to go forth and pass the EXIT sign. Trapped and not released until the sun’s day is almost gone.

So, hopefully, with retirement looming, this will be my last fall that I have to look at others’ Facebook postings showing the splendor of nature’s great change in the Ozark and New England forested acres. We’ll be able to go see it for ourselves. I’ll be able to bike, golf, run, and kayak in relative comfort and ease; and throughout the day if I choose to. I’ll experience the comfort of reading on our patio without needing a fan to create a spurious breeze.

For the first time since I entered through the doors of Miss Wiebe’s Kindergarten class 54 years ago, autumn will finally and truly become my favorite season of the year. In fact, if I were forced to stay in this profession for many years to come, I would find myself lobbying to replace school’s summer break with an autumn break. I’m pretty sure I could get a lot of faculty support.

Last Fall Parent/Teacher Conferences

So it’s been 6 weeks into the school year and we’re holding fall parent/teacher conferences tonight and Thursday night. These will be my last fall semester conference sessions ever, and I’m going to miss them. Conferences give me a chance to sit down and talk with parents twice a year, and some of them love to talk. What I’ve come to the conclusion with, however, is not that they love to talk so much as they just need someone to talk to who understands their difficulties in raising a child with a disability. Because of this free flow of personal information, I become more aware of their personal problems and trials than I am sometimes comfortable with. Fortunately, this exchange of information is one-sided as the parents have the need to unload (sometimes for 20-30 minutes straight) and have very little interest and inquiry into my own family. I get to remain anonymous as these families create a voluntary voyeuristic window into their very personal lives.

These meetings also bond us as a family of sorts; a family derived from joint responsibility for their children. I spend more waking hours with some of these kids than their parents do, and for that reason, I become the uncle or grandfather who bestows sage advice and life lessons. It’s this form of relations that makes me care for them and what they share as if it is entrusted to me as a family-held secret.

I will miss these family attachments after I retire. Each year, there will be fewer and fewer greetings and catch-up conversations with fathers and mothers from my career past whenever I make a trip into Wal-Mart. I enjoy the rock stardom of being recognized and greeted throughout Winfield, and I fear that each year, I will blend into the aisle of cheese crackers with a camouflage of anonymity.

I guess that I’ll just have to make new acquaintances and somehow inquire into their lives …without divulging my own.



Last Homecoming Parade

Every day has its fun times, but two of the most fun-filled weeks we enjoy at Winfield High School are the homecoming Spirit Weeks. Every day of the week is a dress-up day based around a central theme, and capped off on Friday with the big downtown Homecoming Parade. Classes, teams, schools, bands, and clubs put together floats and signs, get out of school early, and hurl cheap individually-wrapped pieces of candy at the hundreds, if not thousands, of kids and their parents sitting along the curbs along Main Street.

Every year, I join in. Since I gave up my position as junior class sponsor, I’ve grouped up with the faculty entry. This year, some of us walked carrying signs and flinging sugar chunks. Some of us rode our decorated-by-TA bikes in Shriner-style around the onfoot teachers and staff (that’s me and my knobby knees in the picture). It’s always a blast, and alas, it was my last homecoming parade. I’ll miss it terribly. Next year, I’ll just have to enjoy it from the sidelines. Maybe someone will throw a Tootsie Roll at me!img_2872

My Last Bluegrass Day

festivalOur quintessential small town of Winfield hosts an amazing flat-picking championship and music festival every third weekend in September. The Walnut Valley Festival is a huge gathering of folk and bluegrass fans and musicians. Winfield almost doubles in size as campers, artists, contestants, and regulars from around the world converge on our fairgrounds for two weeks of guitar, banjo, mandolin, and dulcimer picking and hammering. During the festival, 5 stages of famous and near-famous groups and artists are performing all at the same time from sunup to way past sundown.

Our school district does its part to support this massive local event each year by calling off school for one whole Friday during the festival. The truth is, they had trouble with absenteeism from students and teachers alike on that day. This special non-holiday day off is called “Bluegrass Day”.

So my last Bluegrass Day is this year. However, since I won’t be reporting to work next year, every day of the festival will be Bluegrass Day for me. Maybe I’ll learn to play the guitar by then and join in.

Anecdotal Evidence

Part of my ongoing research into timing my retirement involves countless conversations with a lot of friends and colleagues that have already taken the big step. As of this writing, exactly 96% of them (alright, that’s an estimate) have unequivocally stated, most of the time without me even having to ask, that they love retirement.  Additional quips include, “You won’t regret it”, “Do it now”, and “Retire while you are still young enough to enjoy it.” I sometimes wonder if these people are telling the truth, or are just in need of additional teachers choosing to go down the same path in order to confirm their own regrettable decisions. I lean towards believing that they are telling the truth about how great it is, since the percentage is so high (exactly 96%).

Last Picture Day


Every year on Picture Day, school photographers descend upon the high school to immortalize and update the aging process of students and teachers alike. This picture gets planted in the high school yearbook, so it becomes a matter of public record. Every year, they first call the teachers down to the auditorium for a little soul-theft before classes start. And every year, I never remember when Picture Day is. So the first thing I did when they called us down this morning was to look down at what I was wearing. This year I lucked out. Pretty conservative. No ill-fitting school spirit polo or t-shirt. That’s good.

Now I’m not very photogenic, especially when asked to pose for a portrait; double-especially when the pressure’s on because a line of fellow faculty members are waiting for their turn. But this was going to be my last school picture, so I didn’t want it to be a dud like so many others I’ve had recently. I get all nervous and my smile turns out looking like I’m in pain. The only good school photo of myself was the one that was taken about 12 years ago. That one was taken just as one of the paras standing behind the camera quipped, “Say cleavage”. That one turned out pretty good. No, this one was not going to be a first-attempt success. After the photographer showed me the result, I asked her to take one more. It turned out a little bit better, so I went with that one. I explained to the woman behind the camera that it was my last one. She smiled and said, “Ahhh”. I interpreted her “ahhh” as a form of “congratulations”, resulting in a true smile.


Finally Friday

imageThe Last First Full Week

I made it through the first full week of this my last school year. That leaves only about 35 more weeks, but who’s counting? Most of those weeks are not even going to be full weeks like this one, with holidays and planning days sprinkled throughout the year. In fact, I just paused to count the “off-weeks”. I can look forward to a total of 11 of them, with 24 full 5-day weeks this year. By “full 5-day week”, I mean a week with 5 student contact days.

It’s not that I don’t like student contact days, mind you. The reality is that when I’m in meetings all day, I would much rather be working with students. It’s just that I like weeks with a little variety built in, the “off-weeks”.

Wait! Hopefully, that describes weeks in retirement. Doesn’t it? I really do hope that every week in retirement will be an “off-week”, filled with variety and different expectations.