Thursday, March 7, 2013

# 49 Stuck in the Middle with You

   Most difficult decisions are about scrimmages with alternatives. We don't like inconsistencies in our lives and so, an overbearing dilemma can often be invasive. I've seen some people become different people when faced with major decisions, some lose it, and embrace it.  I think I am in the category of people who don't like to fight, but see no other viable alternative to winning the battle.

   In my battle, the first mistake I make is to think out loud. I arrive home from work one day, and in the mailbox, I find an annual pension report from the Teacher's Pension Plan. I discover that I can actually retire from teaching two years. I look at this report, and to be honest, I don't know if I want to laugh with joy, or cry with disappointment.

   I mean, it seems, time has gone by too quickly.  I still like teaching, I still like the kids, I can't think of too many mornings when I don't enjoy going into work. However, there are elements outside of the classroom that are darkening my spirits. I think, maybe it is time to pull the plug.

   But, it becomes a hurdle getting my mind wrapped around the idea of not working. I have been, going to school, looking for work, or working, since I was 14 or 15. What to do?, what to do?, becomes my mantra for the next few weeks, and then I make the mistake of telling a colleague about my dilemma.

   Schools are like little villages, and interesting news drips into the community like rain on a leaky roof.  Within a week, I have colleagues asking me if I am going to retire. "I hear you're going this year Dave? Can I come?" Rather than shutting down the questions, I say, "Well, I am thinking about it."  I guess I am enjoying the attention my impending retirement is receiving. And then, it happens.

   I am sitting in a department meeting, listening to some perfunctory exchange of information when the newbie sitting behind me, leans into my right ear, and whispers something. I don't quite catch his message, so I cock my head to the right, and nod for him to repeat. He whispers, "Hey Dave, I hear you're thinking about retiring?" And I say, "Yea?"  Then he says, "Do you think I'll be able to take over your room?"  I think, Oh fuck! I'm not gone yet! My chair isn't even cold man! 

   I don't blame him though, as I do have the best room in the school. It has lots of natural light, and is pretty warm in the winter.  It's one of the largest in the school, and I have spent a few years having the kids cover the walls with architectural murals.  I started teaching Design and Technology in this room over ten years ago, and as I shifted into full time English, I just stayed there. Everyone who comes into it comments on its size, and artwork. I call it my big man cave in the basement. So, I am sympathetic to the newbie's desire to take it over once I leave.

    Anyway, the newbie is still waiting for me to answer the question. I don't have the heart to tell him that I won't be the one who will make the decision, and instead, whisper the same words my dad says to me, when, as a young man, I ask him about his estate, once he passes.  I say to newbie, "You can have it all when I go man, but don't hold your breath."  He never asks me the question again.

   Once the news of my impending departure hits the student body airwaves, things really heat up. A couple of kids claim I give them low marks because I am retiring. One says "Sir, you should give everyone a high mark because you are retiring."  It's like a potential feeding frenzy for people who think they just got a faint whiff of dying man's blood.

   As the weeks roll by, the apparent feeding frenzy continues, and people are asking me for things like my chair, and collected resources. At one point, even the courses I will be teaching the next year become a consideration, "because I might be retiring."  All this, and I have only said that I will be eligible soon, and I am considering it.

   When I start to confront the reality of quitting the job I've held for the past 29 years, questions swirl around my head like too many tequilas.  What will I do with my new wealth of time?  What will I do with the time I have left? What will I do about money?  But then, I realize, most of my concerns are not worthy of too much mental anguish. I always have lots to do when I'm not working, and I have always found ways of making money. But, what about the other issues to consider.

    Believe it or not, after all of these years, I still like most of the kids, most of the time. I still like teaching them, even the ones who don't seem to want to learn. My students have taught me more about learning than the many workshops I have attended. In addition, I still enjoy hearing the new slang that floats into the language ever five years or so, and the new gadgets with which they become so obsessed. In spite of what many people who don't work with kids say, I don't think much has changed with them over the past few thousand years.

    I will miss the camaraderie I experienced with so many teachers over the years. Teachers talk a lot, and can be pretty bossy drama queens at times. They are are probably the only people I have met who can literally have a major conversation, beginning, middle, and end, in like, 60s seconds.  But, I don't think I have ever met one who doesn't have a genuinely good soul. Good teachers are: intelligent, kind, generous, nurturing people who accomplish most everything with their eyes, ears and mouth. (I felt my head inflate as I wrote those words!) I will miss the adrenaline filled shop talk sessions at after work social events. I'll even miss those teachers with poorly concealed ambitions of moving up the corporate ladder. The fact is, so many teachers go well beyond the job expectations, and they rarely get credit for their dedication. I will miss working with these people everyday.

   However, if I get asked the question, "What are you going to do?" one more time... .  Teachers are often obsessive compulsive planners, and the thought of having a life not planned bothers them. I understand the question, I've asked myself the same thing a million times now. What will you do with all the freedom? But, I think, that is one of the main things I want to retire from, planning. What a dreamer I am eh!

   The truth is, in the past, I've been confronted with heavier decisions to make about the direction of life, and while the oscillation between the alternatives can seem weighty, I'm not complaining.  Normally, I don't like quoting authors, but this one has stuck with me since I read it in my first year as a teacher. I was confronted with a whole series of problems about the future, and tripped over this while studying for an exam in Victorian poetry. "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." (G. B. Shaw) My dilemma is so benign in comparison to what so many other people have to confront. I am happy to be in this scrimmage with these alternatives.