How it all began
When I was six years old, my dad set up a school in the unfinished basement of our new house in Rocky Point, New York. The blackboard was fixed to the cement wall. A scratched up, wooden teacher desk was near the board and an old gray couch and rug were set up for the students. Most importantly, my dad brought home a grade book from his work so I could write the names of my students, record their imaginary grades and do averages for their report cards.
Some days I was lucky and recruited my 3 year old brother and his friends to sit on the couch so that I could use my blackboard to teach them math facts or do a show and tell. I remember vividly the day I decided to pick up my black cat, Fluffy, for show and tell. As I lifted her out of the box, several little black furry objects fell off her. I called up the stairs to my mom that mice were eating the cat!
Mom came down and explained that Fluffy must have been a girl cat and that these were baby kittens. It was always an adventure to play school!
Over the years I continued to play school with stuffed animals and Barbies. Dad continued to bring home a new grade book from his job as a high school Chemistry teacher and I loved making up names for the kids in my class, which generally resembled names of my classmates that year.
As expected, my first jobs were babysitting for neighbor’s children. I liked kids and I was pretty good with them I guess, but what I recall most were Saturday nights after putting them to bed, watching The Love Boat, followed by Fantasy Island and then Saturday Night Live with the not ready for prime time players. It was the late 70s and that was the best night on TV.
After taking horseback riding lessons for years and working at the local horse farm to afford those lessons, I was hired as a riding instructor for the summer day camp. That was my first official teaching job and for 2 summers I was responsible for a group of horses and children who came to the ring. I taught them how to walk, trot, canter and basically steer the horse. On rainy days we went to the indoor ring or had lessons on grooming the animals and cleaning bridles and saddles.
On to College
By the time I was 17 and ready for college I anxiously searched to try something different. I had wanted to be a teacher since I was 6, but suddenly I switched course and planned on studying to be a dietician. After a year of science classes, I realized I really was destined to be a teacher and took all the appropriate courses. Even if I worked in the travel field for a little while first, my dad convinced me that having a teaching certification in my back pocket couldn’t hurt. Good advice dad.
During college, I student taught 2nd and 4th grade in upstate New York and my most memorable lesson was the sunny fall day I took the 4th graders onto the outside field to act out the solar system. Each child wore a costume and I placed the child planets an approximate scaled distance from the sun child. I knew even then to make the most active little boy Pluto (it was a planet back then) so he had the most distance to run when given the command to begin their revolutions.
I commuted with the supervising teacher and 2 other student teachers the 30 minutes from my college town to this rural school. On the 3rd day of student teaching, the teacher took the day off to play golf and I was the substitute teacher – they didn’t even hire anyone else that day! Can’t imagine getting away with that today.
After college, I was in no rush to be a teacher. I knew it was something I would do, but I was 20-something and after spending a semester in England and backpacking around Europe I had the travel bug. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be Julie McCoy, the cruise director on the Love Boat.
I never heard back from the cruise ships that I applied to, but I did get a job with American Airlines as a ticket agent the first summer after college. I commuted to JFK airport each day from my parent’s home, put on a uniform, and traded boarding passes for luggage. Some days I even got to work in the first-class lounge and sit at a desk.
I was let go after the summer due to cutbacks and soon took a job at a firm in NYC that booked hotel reservations for Europe and the Caribbean. We answered the phones from travel agents reserving hotel rooms that we represented. The bonus of this job was the promise of a free trip and I did get my all expense paid trip to Bermuda thus becoming an expert on the hotels we represented there.
After a year in NYC, I drove out west to live in the resort town of Aspen, Colorado with a friend. We made great memories waitressing and even for a few days I substitute taught at the local high school. After the ski season, I reunited with my boyfriend Mike, whom I later married, and moved to San Diego. I still had the travel bug and was not quite ready to work in a school yet, so I worked at the front desk of a big hotel chain. Mike got hired as a bellhop and the benefits included discounted hotel stays as well as the occasional restaurant meal and tickets to touristy things that we could talk up with visitors to the hotel.
Life as a Teacher
It was 1989 when Mike and I got married, bought our first home, and settled into a more secure lifestyle with health benefits and a decent salary, so I threw my hat into the teaching pool. But it wasn’t that easy to get a job. My first teaching job in San Diego was part-time as a Chapter One assistant for kids struggling with reading and math. I also substitute taught in several different school districts waiting for that 5 a.m. phone call to tell me where I would be going.
Finally, after months, I was hired as a computer lab teacher at a school for 4-6th grade students near the border of Mexico. I taught all the classes how to insert a floppy disk into a stand-alone Apple IIe computer and play Oregon Trail and other such programs. The highlight of this job was the partnership I formed with the USS Bagley, a Navy battleship. Each month I brought our citizens of the month on a field trip to have a guided tour and then eat lunch with the sailors on the ship.
The special funding for my computer teacher job ended so it was back to job huntingl. I had just finished my master’s degree at SDSU in Reading Education, but of course, I wasn’t hired as a reading teacher. I was hired as a resource room teacher so it was back to school for another masters degree in Special Education. For 3 years I taught K-6 reading and math in a trailer located out on the playground. I had almost completed my certification in Special Ed when Mike was accepted to law school back in New York, and after 8 years in California, we moved home, with our 22-month-old son.
Teaching jobs were still hard to get so I was very fortunate when I was hired as a reading teacher in the Copiague school district. I taught reading at 2 different schools every day and was trained as a Reading Recovery teacher, a specific individualized program to teach first-grade students. After 4 years the school district felt the program wasn’t benefitting enough children so planned to eliminate it.
I looked for another job in the local newspaper and found a school district looking for a Reading Recovery teacher who would teach kindergarten for half of the day. I had never had my own classroom and pictured myself handing out mini water bottles to 5 year-olds on field day and discovered I had found my dream job!
That was 20 years ago. What a run I have had. After 9/11 we moved to the same town as I taught in so I could be closer to my own kids. My younger son went to kindergarten, first and second grade in the same building as me. I loved the flexibility of teaching reading for half of the day and always enjoyed the affection and amazing amount of learning I witnessed from my kindergarten students. My passion for reading was contagious and I loved that I could excite children for the fun and enjoyment they would get from books.
After thirty years as an educator, I am ready for a new chapter in my life. I was fortunate to be able to stay in my house and keep my job after the sudden death of my husband. My children had gone off to college, but they still came home to a familiar place on their breaks. I even provided a safe and newly renovated home for us to all be together during those first weeks of sheltering in place from COVID-19 this year.
Last year I married Pete, a new love in my life who keeps me smiling every day. As newlyweds, we are stepping into our future together. He retired and has nothing but good things to say about it, so I am now convinced. I am retiring!
Why Retire now?
I originally expected to teach one more year, but this is a year like no other. When I walked into my classroom in August, the rug where I had shared read-aloud stories with children had been removed. The blocks and the kitchen area had disappeared into “storage”. The tables were spread out awaiting the plexiglass barriers that my masked 4 and 5-year-olds would be sitting behind. I felt an ache in my heart. I couldn’t breathe. I knew that I would not be good at this.
In addition, the day I went into the classroom was 5 years to the day that Mike had helped me set up my classroom, 3 days before he died. Grief overwhelmed me that morning in my room. I thought of the man who was ripped from our lives and I grieved for the children who could not sing or play in my class due to COVID restrictions this year and it erupted into what I now discovered could be labeled as a STUG: Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief. The physical effects were intense and the unexpected wave of emotions forced me to exit the room and take a medical leave from starting the school year.
As I watched from home, news reports of students and teachers adjusting to social distancing in schools with some children in class and some at home, I considered going back to work. Some schools offered teachers the option of teaching virtually from home. My school district would not consider that. Due to our age and some health issues, my husband and I are considered to be at risk for complications from COVID. This makes me nervous and I am very careful about going out in public. I discussed returning to school with everyone in my family and made lists of pros and cons. Was the stress, anxiety, and health risk worth it?
Ultimately, I was given a choice. Come back into the classroom, take the year off without pay, or retire early with my pension.
I chose to retire!
I respect my colleagues who go in each day doing their best to make a safe and happy learning experience for the children. They are the heroes of this pandemic now and we should be sending them trays of food for lunch and putting up signs thanking them for all the extra work they are doing while putting their own health in jeopardy.
Knowing loss like I do, my late husband Mike and both my parents are now gone, I understand that each day is a gift. We are not guaranteed tomorrow so some decisions are better made now.
I am excited to see what will come next. I enjoy traveling and hope that will be available again soon. Snowbirding to Florida like my mom did and skiing with my sons this winter would make me happy.
Using the pandemic to take long walks outside in nature and some quiet time to reflect on my life so far has been good. I finally have the time to just be. Maybe Runawaywidow was running away from herself in the busyness that is life and work. Now I have the time to get to know who I am, and figure out where I’m going next.
I trust I am being led to where I need to be. Everything comes to me at the right time and place.
I can’t say that I never will teach again. If I miss the smiling faces of little children or need some extra income, I am sure to put my name on the list of substitute teachers once a vaccine for this virus becomes available.
My dad retired at 55 years old. He spent a year making a very detailed stamp collection and doing projects around the house. A year or so later, he was back in the classroom teaching Chemistry at St. Anthony’s, a private catholic high school. He always spoke so highly of the students at that school and how much he enjoyed being back in the classroom after working as an administrator for his last few years in public schools.
Retirement sounds great but I won’t say that I’ll never work again; in fact I do have some ideas stirring around in the back of my mind. In the meantime, I will dream about post-pandemic travel opportunities. And who knows? Cruise director or guest, I may still make it to that Love Boat yet!