I always wondered what it would be like on my last day of work. I thought I would be sentimental. I didn’t think the feeling would be relief.
There are many other things I didn’t think. I didn’t think that the fun bits of my career would be the early parts.
I used to think that what made a great teacher was that they had an interesting life. Larry Walsh published a book of poetry. Ralph McGuire spoke sixteen languages, eight fluently, two with native fluency. Larry Russel’s wife was a photographer for National Geographic, and Larry every year played at the North Sea Jazz Festival. I’m not saying that every teacher need be a scholar or an artist. I am saying that the job’s purpose, in part, is to make possible the more interesting bits of our lives, not to crush them. Yet crushing the job has become.
So many years ago, when I got my Ph. D., I wanted to teach the poorest of the poor. Be careful what you wish for. Now it’s come to this: I need to retire to save my own soul. I once thought I was one of the strong ones.
The Teacher’s Retirement Speech
When I’m gone, I don’t want a tree or a bench named me.
I’d like someone to find a pay stub and ask “Wasn’t he…”
Someone gave me a card that said the stuff that makes the sun makes us.
For my part, I’d like everyone to take a breather—–to hell with the sun and the uplifting
stuff and think of light as an innuendo, a glance from your lover over dessert,
the glance that says sex tonight. Then think no more
about it. So let the answer to “Wasn’t he” be—–something that flashed
past an unwashed window, something glanced out the corner but gone,
a lesson you forgot when you were interrupted, the desire you feel
when you kiss the lipstick left on her last glass of wine.