Saturday, August 20, 2011

School Dreams


It has been a familiar pattern. In the last days of the annual Michigan August visit, when the apples are almost wholly ripe and the corn begins its decline, I start to dream of school. Some inner clock knows that it’s almost time to put my shoulder to that big wheel to get it rolling again and prepares the psyche accordingly. Night after night, the dreams appear—from the anticipatory delight of fresh beginnings with new notebooks and sharpened pencils to the anxiety dreams of showing up to class naked or without the lesson prepared. Some 36 years of this cycle and the soul knows—it’s time.

Except this year. Not a single dream. Since this Fall will be my trimester off and I won’t really be at school until January, it makes sense that the dreams haven’t appeared. (But how do they know?) I’ve often wondered whether retired teachers still have these dreams. And since more and more of my colleagues at school indeed have retired, I should ask them!

And speaking of retirement, another one of the 30-year-plus club unexpectedly announced her retirement a few weeks back. Lynne started the same year I did at The San Francisco School, way back in 1975, but also had been a school parent for seven years before that—a 43-year association with the school! I haven’t spoken with her yet, but I imagine her enjoying her summer, hanging out with her grandchildren, following her whimsy each day and thinking, “Hey! I could keep doing this all year!” And so she will.

I’m beginning to feel like that jazz album title featuring some of the elder statesmen of jazz— Ain’t But A Few of Us Left! Five, to be exact—Patty the cook, Shannon and Linda in preschool, my wife Karen and myself who began in those far-away years of the 1970’s. In the past five years or so, they’ve slipped out one by one—John Jehu, Fran, Terry, Pamela, Susie and now Lynne. Last year when another long-timer retired, Karen and I hosted a SF School Veteran Teacher’s Party and played a hilarious round of Trivial Pursuits, where each of us wrote the questions down from our long, illustrious and apparently, hilarious, tenure at the school. Great fun and my, haven’t we been through a lot together.

Of course, when your colleagues drop one-by-one as they have, everyone starts wondering, Agatha Christie-style, “Who’s next?” Should I apologize for feeling like “I’m just getting warmed-up” and there’s so much more I haven’t accomplished at the school that I still hope to do? Of course, the fact that I’ve been gone for 1/3 of the year the past 11 years has helped avoid any sense of burn-out as I’ve balanced teaching kids with teaching teachers, travel and writing. And more of the latter awaits me (I hope) when I finally formally retire from school. But though certain school people may get excited hearing that last phrase, don’t pull out the candles yet. I’m not ready to announce the date. I trust it will appear when the time is right and not a single day before.

Maybe it will happen some August in Michigan when I’m riding a bike past the apple orchards, then plunging into the lake, sitting on the deck watching the sunset after a dinner of sweet corn and fresh tomatoes, telling a bedtime story to my grandchild and suddenly realizing, “Hey! I could be doing this all year!” Maybe I’ll finally get that offer to head the Harvard Education Program or be appointed the Secretary of Education. Maybe it will come from a secret vote from the school community—“Enough is enough!” Or maybe it will be announced by the absence of school dreams just as summer turns to Fall.

I’ll keep you posted.

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