On the End of My Classroom Teaching Career

It’s a strange feeling holding the official termination of your teaching career in your hand. But here it is, the Letter I still can’t bear to open and read but know its contents. The End.

The general impression is that I concluded my 32 years in service to the young people of Oregon (and one year in Turkey) in abject disgrace. I will address that impression at a later date, but not in this blog. There will be time for that later.

As for teaching, I do miss the unique chemistry I had with the students from Astoria. They were unlike any of my career, beautifully gritty and unpredictable. We were doing great things together. We were going somewhere special and now I am going somewhere unknown.

I admit that I had an ongoing love/hate relationship with being a middle/high school teacher; I’ve written about it a lot. Teaching so often consumed me that I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t participate in a reciprocal relationship with partner, couldn’t get the job out of my head, couldn’t ever truly relax or live in the moment. I’ll never forget that one bout of insomnia in 2012 when I was arriving to my classroom at 4:00 a.m. in the morning! I do know that I gave the various jobs everything I had, I mean everything, because it was the most important work of my life.

It was pretty harrowing for me to dump three decades of curriculum I wrote into a recycling bin. (I retained a few writing units.) I’ll never forget that rainy morning in Seaside a few months ago. I felt as if wanted to join the files. Before I tossed each file, I quickly perused its contents and was astonished to discover lots of personal writing from 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years ago that I had completely forgotten about. It was my writing on the various prompts I gave them over the years. I must have written a half million words with students in real time, right in front of them. I have often thought I trained myself as a writer by writing with students. I became part of the process and surrendered my work over to their critique like they did with theirs. Over the years, many of the students were the best editors I ever had, including one in particular who went on to copyedit four of my books and had an intuitive grasp of how to coach me to say things more clearly. I dearly miss working with her.

For my own mental accounting, here is a list of all the subjects I taught, sports I coached, and extracurricular activities I advised. This list doesn’t include the couple hundred times I was a substitute teacher or the hundreds of field trips I led, at least 27 that involved building driftwood forts, one that took place in 4.75 inches of rain, a dozen or so to a thrift stores, and seven to Powell’s Books in Portland. Perhaps my favorite was the hike to Hart’s Cove (pictured here.) What a glorious Oregon morning that was.

Subjects: Beginning Psychology, Advanced Psychology, Political Science, Advanced Political Science, World History, American Government, Economics, Global Studies, Freshmen English, Freshmen Journalism, ESL for fifth graders, ESL for high school students, US History, Journalism, Advanced Economics, Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing, Photography, Advanced Photography, Advanced Freshmen English, Advanced Junior English, Senior English, Yearbook, Seventh/Eighth Grade Language Arts, Seventh and Eighth Grade Social Studies, Seventh and Eighth Grade Science, Seventh and Eighth Grade PE, Fifth and Sixth Grade English, Junior English, Advanced Senior English, WR 121, English Credit Recovery, Alternative English, Rock and Roll.

Sports: fifth grade girls basketball, seventh grade boys football and basketball, freshmen girls basketball, varsity girls tennis (six years), varsity boys tennis, eighth grade girls basketball, 10 years of teaching summer tennis lesson to students age 8-18.

Activities: newspaper advisor (12 years), literary review advisor (11 years), open mic advisor (8 years, 125 gigs) rock festival coordinator (four years), service club advisor (three years), mushroom club advisor (one year), Oregon adventure club advisor (one year.)

I am sure I forgot something here or there. This is all from memory and it’s been a long journey through a lot of different jobs and so many different experiences. I met some of the greatest people of my life during this journey as a classroom teacher. I had some favorite classes, but if I was hard-pressed to name the top ones…it would be…the Advanced Junior English class from Taft in 2005-06 and the Legion of the Rock creative writing class from 2012. There was also an Econ class at Beaverton that stands out.

That part of my life is over and my reputation as a teacher forever stained. But I know I did some good work that mattered.

Still, I believe I have something unique to offer Oregon and Oregonians with my teaching, particularly in light of what’s happened to me. I will continue to teach writing workshops to adults and perhaps expand that to the online world. I would like to start a writing group and lead in that capacity. My ultimate teaching job would be to teach writing to the incarcerated, men or women, all kinds of writing, from resumes, to letters of apology, to memoirs, to poetry, to flash fiction. During my ten days in jail, I taught an informal writing workshop to several of the inmates, and the experience taught me a lot and produced some incredible words. There is more work for me to do, especially when it comes to honoring the faith my family held out to me during the ordeal. They never stopped believing in me and that keep me believing in myself.

For now, patience. We shall see what unfolds. I’m getting stronger every day.

Wait until I get a dog.

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