The Year in Review

It’s been a year since my retirement after nearly thirty years of classroom teaching and school administration. While this last weekend in June may not be New Year’s Day, it is nonetheless time for taking stock and setting goals for the coming year. Nearly all of my friends and acquaintances advised me to take a year off, to just chill out, before setting big goals and expecting to chip away at my bucket list, but I didn’t believe them. I think the karma gods figured out right away that I was now available for all sorts of unplanned speed bumps on the road to a new life phase; let’s just say that it’s been an eventful year. Let the record show that those who warned me were right and I was wrong!

So what have I learned?

1) Just because I don’t have to get up at o’dark thirty to go to work doesn’t mean my animals think I should sleep in, even though I don’t go to bed at 9:30 anymore.

2) It’s a lot easier to eat well and to exercise well and often without the daily grind of working full time.

3) As an introvert, I sometimes have to remember to get outside of my own head and interact with people other than my partner, and then I have to do something about it, which I mostly have, but there is room for improvement.

4) I don’t seem to have much in common with a lot of the people my own age. I am the oldest person in most of the new adventures I’m involved with, and that’s just fine.

5) While I miss the actual act of teaching — interacting with kids, thinking up new ways to present material, mentoring students and younger colleagues — there are big parts of being a K-12 teacher that became more and more onerous in recent years. I am delighted to never again have to:

o   Write another report card comment

o   Explain in person or on some idiotic online form that no one ever reads “how I’ve developed myself professionally this year”

o   Sit through another faculty meeting

o   Post an assignment in yet another format on yet another piece of crap software

o   Endure being told that I am blunt and intimidating because I have decades of experience and am not afraid to say what I think

6) Maybe I just need some space, but the book I wanted to write about the state of contemporary American education is the furthest thing from my mind right now.

7) Finally, having the time to deal with all the junk I’ve accumulated — both physical and virtual — doesn’t mean it’s actually any fun to sift through it and, as they say, “deaccession” (except for most of the work clothes, which went to Goodwill immediately).

So what have been the best things to happen during this first year?

1) Traveling, from planning a trip to actually doing it, has enriched my life and my relationship beyond measure. Mr. D and I have spent months away from home, visiting the West Coast, Asia, New York and Rehoboth. We’ve become a well-oiled partnership on the road, and it has brought us closer. We’ve met some seriously inspirational new people on our travels, almost all of them adventurous and younger than we are, because we don’t ever stay in impersonal and/or expensive places. We’ve had quality time with friends and family during times other than school vacations, and we’ve been able to take leisurely trips to places known and unknown rather than freaking out over how many days we have until we go back to work. I know, most people think, “teachers have all summer off, what’s the problem,” but let me tell you, I used to work my butt off during the summer catching up on household chores, planning for new courses and making “old” ones fresh.

2) I’ve taken two classes that have seriously changed my life. Getting started on learning to really use my DSLR camera enabled me to see the world anew. I wish it weren’t such a pain to transfer these photos in real time to Instagram! Even more importantly, the short story semester class I took with the renowned author and professor Mary Gordon gave me the jumpstart I needed for my own writing. The reading list was challenging, her lectures were riveting, and the comments I received on the five papers I had to write for the course renewed my confidence in my ability. I nearly cried tears of joy when she wrote that she was “blown away” by the “depth and elegance” of my thought and prose. I really needed that as I began to get serious about committing to the next step in my intellectual life.

3) Serendipity brought me a forum to test my authorial wings, and also gave me the opportunity to share with three women who have become my writing touchstone. Kate and I met at the first meeting of an author’s group at our local library, but decided independently that the group just wasn’t for us. She took the initiative to start a group and before we knew it we had four committed women ranging in age from twenties to sixties and several others who came and went sporadically. We meet every two weeks to share work with no restrictions as to genre. Pieces must not exceed 1200 words and must include a word drawn at random the previous session. After one school year so far (not including vacations) we have by my count met sixteen times. The support and critical acuity of my co-members has emboldened me to write deep from the gut, enabled me to hone pieces after receiving excellent criticism, and given me a sense of community and grounding in what can be a lonely or overly narcissistic endeavor.

What have been the biggest challenges of this first year of retirement?

1) Without question, health issues have been major stressors, even though none of them have been my own:

o   My father’s wife’s death after an arduous battle with ovarian cancer

o   My father’s own frailty and ultimate health crisis and recovery

o   Mr. D’s very unexpected pacemaker implantation

o   My brother’s bout with colon cancer

o   My sweet elder dog Sydney’s cancer recurrence and consequent euthanasia

o   My feisty middle aged terrier’s thyroid cancer surgery

Can I tell you how much I loathe cancer?

2) It’s taken a long time to let go of the goals I set for the first year (blogging on two separate blogs every week, accomplishing a number of home improvements, consolidating and perhaps getting rid of all of my electronic and physical teaching materials, becoming a better person, blah blah blah). I’m now choosing to focus on how much I have really accomplished rather than how much is still left to do.

3) It was very hard to adjust to not earning money. This was not so much a financial hardship as a change of self-definition. I continued to do some tutoring, but in effect was, for the first time in decades, not receiving a paycheck per se. I’ve gone from being not just employed but also having at least one freelance situation on the side to being retired. I have no plans or desires to return to the workforce and feel fine now, but those first few months were anxiety producing.

So what’s next?

I’m much less future oriented and much more present in the now than I used to be. My goals are simpler. I want to

o   Be able to hold a handstand in the middle of the room by my birthday

o   Work through the tutorials on the photography program Lightroom5

o   Spend quality time with my remaining terrier now that I have a sense of her mortality

o   Freeze fresh sweet corn and can fresh tomatoes

o   Post on my blogs at least once every two weeks

o   Clean out the garage and the carriage house

o   Get the tile and floor jobs done, preferably by paying someone else to do them

o   Read more

This past year has been one of the best of my life, even though the challenges have been many. I’m looking forward to each day as it comes, and I can honestly say that retiring when I did was one of the best decisions I have ever made!

MsD Leaves Downton Abbey

My readers know that I am a Downton Abbey fan. In anticipation of tonight’s Season 3 finale, I give you this:

While I have enjoyed the ability to create synthesis, to cultivate intellectual collision, to learn new things as a vehicle for teaching new classes, to follow my passion for watching young minds open and grow, I have seen over the course of my career my chosen field turned from somewhat shabby gentility to a customer service profession.

I’ve moved, metaphorically speaking, from a small apartment in a remote wing of Downton Abbey reserved for an interesting if unfortunately less wealthy second cousin of the main Grantham line, to the downstairs apartment of, say, Mrs. Hughes – not exactly banned from upstairs, somewhat in charge, but ultimately a paid employee expected to keep scandal at bay and insure the proper care and feeding of the household.

phyllis-logan-as-mrs-hughes-in-downton-abbey-126150857At least when Mrs. Hughes had her cancer scare, Lady Grantham assured her that she would always be taken care of by the family (and probably not, lucky for her, by that snooty titled doctor who killed Sybil). Spoiler alert: who knows what will happen to Mrs. Hughes when Lord Grantham runs the place into bankruptcy – again! Drumroll: “socialized” medicine to the rescue, but not until 1948 when she will presumably be buried out back next to Carson.

I will leave teaching to cultivate full-time, with COBRA for my health insurance, which, after eighteen months will be replaced with Medicare. Naming time-limited healthcare continuation after a venomous snake is perfectly fitting given the paralyzing effect that acquiring individual healthcare has on one’s ability to work for one’s self!

Keeping ledgers, managing drama, cajoling callow under-performers and bowing to the sweet but out-of-touch and occasionally imperious Carson – Mrs. Hughes and I share a similar lot. It’s modern form is bowing to the vision of my superiors, constant grade transparency, endless meetings, documentation and communication of my and my students productivity at the expense of real time to think, protection of the “brand” of my school and “innovation” that is really just superficial wrapping on what good teachers have been doing all along. Think Daisy resenting the attention received by Cora’s mother’s American maid, or the new bright and shiny scullery maid Ivy (and I don’t mean League).

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Through a plot twist, Daisy has been given the chance to become her own boss, moving a step up from the world of service to tenancy, thanks to her father-in-law, who has no heirs but this one-day bride of his fallen son. Will she take it?

I may be Mrs. Hughes — in age if not appearance– but the Daisy in me is turning in her notice, off to cultivate new fields of endeavor in a plot (twist) of her own. I may not be moving upstairs, but I am definitely moving out. Stay tuned for the next season.