Having of one of the children I instructed and cared about meet an untimely death is always unnerving. I guess because I nurtured them for the months they sat in my classroom, and I worked hard to help them carve a future for themselves, to find that future has been swept away is deeply troubling.

I live in a small town and so it is a common experience to see my former students as they grow up and move ahead with their lives. I can hardly go grocery shopping without hearing someone call to me, “Hi Mrs. Grant-Smith!” It is a nice feeling to be remembered fondly be so many young people.

It is therefore more painful when news reaches me that one of those young people is no longer with us.

This past weekend, a car accident claimed one such young man. I grieve for his passing.

Downside

Being retired, I have joined the ranks of other former teachers. I look at my contemporaries and I realize that I’m no spring chicken any more.

I have noted for the past ten years that I have been one of the senior members on the school staff. Fresh young teachers came to me for advice. I was older than the last four principals with whom I taught.

I also noted that many of my students were the children of people I had taught. I particularly remember a discussion with my grade two class a couple of years ago. One child piped, “You taught my daddy!”

“Yes, yes I did,” I said.

Another child said, “You taught my mommy.”

“That’s true,” I admitted.

A third child said, “You taught my auntie.”

I ended the topic as quickly as I could. I was afraid that one of the children was going to tell me that I’d taught his grandmother. (I did have one little fellow point out that I was older than his grampie!)

So I guess the aging thing should have come as no surprise. But still, it hit me a bit hard when I realized that I am into the final third of my life. My husband and I are only 14 years away from our fiftieth anniversary. When my parents celebrated their 50th I thought they were..well…old.

I have to confess that death scares me. And infirmity scares me even more.

I am blessed with good genes for longevity. Both of my grandmothers lived actively into their nineties. My parents, aged 90 and 82, are still going strong. So with good luck and conscientious care for my health, I may live another 30-35 years. Somehow, though, three decades doesn’t seem like such a long time.

I am determined to savour every moment. I have the freedom now to do what I want, and to not do things that make me tired, anxious and unhappy – for the most part. I will strive to suck every tasty, juicy, wonderful experience out of my days, and let go of the things that rob me of pleasure. What time I have left I want to use to the fullest.

 

 

New Life

 

I am beginning to realize just how significantly my life has been altered.

For 33 years, mid-August was panic time. All those projects around the house had to be finished right now. Lesson plans and term units needed to be completed. If I wanted to visit my friend on PEI, I needed to make plans to drive over Confederation Bridge immediately. I had one week left before I had to get back into my classroom and organize it for another year. Vacation was over.

What, you may wonder, did I do with the rest of my summer? After all, teachers get eight weeks off, right? I must just be very poor at time management.

Not so. You see, the first two weeks of vacation was taken up with spring cleaning. I was so busy with assessment and report cards and class tripsĀ  through April, May and June that housework is spotty at best. So early July was full of scrubbing, tidying, dusting, weeding and the like.

Then the really big jobs needed to be tackled.Chores like painting the exterior of the house, refinishing floors and other renovations, haying and gardening took up much of the rest of July, and often into August.

Once August arrived, there were always family reunions, visitors, garden harvesting and preserving. And then, by the middle of August, lesson plans need to be worked on and teaching resources tracked down.

From about the 25th till early September, it was back into the classroom. The summer went by all too quickly.

This year, I met a teacher friend at the health center the first week of August. She was already in panic mode. She had family obligations, a couple of day-long courses to attend, and then school time would be upon her.

I left our chat feeling a residual panic. My teacher-self responded to her feeling that there was too much to do and time was slipping away. And then, I realized at a very deep and personal level that things had changed. There is no deadline for me at the end of August. Early September can peek over the horizon and I don’t have to regard it with trepidation. I have time!

What a feeling! Like an old fire horse that has been put out to pasture, and even though the siren is screaming, he knows he can stand in his field and continue to munch grass.

Oh, yes, a part of me is feeling a bit lost. A bit sad that I am not preparing to see those eager little faces as they pour into the school. A bit disoriented because I am not doing that very important pre-September planning.

But mostly, I think I’ll revel in my new reality and welcome my change of pace.

 

Last Day of School

I began teaching in 1979. I’ll do the math for you – I have been a teacher for 33 years. I went from high school to university, and then into the classroom as a fresh-faced teacher, one following the other with no hiatus, no bumming around Europe, no years of searching for myself. I have effectively been in school pretty much non-stop for 50 years.

On June 29, when I hugged my students good-bye and put them on their buses, passed in my school key and walked out the door, it was a very strange feeling. Sadness and elation warred in my psyche. I felt kind of disoriented. I was no longer Joyce Grant-Smith – teacher.

I looked forward to retiring. I loved working with kids. I loved those moments of clarity, when students would look at me with the light bulb flashing over their heads. I loved their honesty, their humour, their energy. But the demands of the job had become increasingly debilitating. I was working 60-70 hours a week, just to keep up with the planning, assessing, and paperwork. I had little time or energy to do anything but teach. I was feeling exhausted and discouraged. I wanted to have the freedom to enjoy more in life than the classroom. I wanted to visit family and friends, sleep in, sit and watch the river flow by.

I had dipped my toes into the writing pool. I have several magazine articles, short stories, a YA novel and a non-fiction book published. I wanted to make writing more than a hobby. I wanted to start a new career.

I wanted to travel. The notion of visiting places any time other than March break and summer vacation was a real novelty. Wouldn’t it be great to travel in September? That had never been an option for me.

So, here I am. Retired.

I first thing I did was throw myself into projects at home. It’s hard to turn off that “I have to get this done” switch. I cleaned the house, top to bottom. I organized, sorted and purged, scrubbed and dusted.

Every other summer, I would assign myself a big job, one that I didn’t have time to do during the school year. For example, last summer I painted all the trim on the house. This year, I set myself the job of staining the siding of the house.

Around the second week of July, I had a revelation. An epiphany. I didn’t have to work on the house all summer, in the heat and the insects. I could wait till the fall. This was a huge mental shift for me. I had time. There was life after the third week of August!

Since that grand revelation, I have gradually started to slow down, like a top that has been spinning wildly and then begins to slacken in its gyrations. I take time to read – something I love to do but had trouble making time for. I write. I have taken up water colour painting. I ride my horses, nearly every day. I putter in my gardens.

Granted, I still have moments of panic. That feeling of “I should be busy – things are going to get ahead of me” has not yet disappeared entirely. It is coming less often, though. The mind set “I have time” is becoming the new norm.

Oh, my land, it is sweet!

 

 

 

Retirement

After enjoying a teaching career that spanned three decades, I am now retired. Although I am ready for this change in my life, and look forward to having the freedom to do other things, it is a huge adjuustment. I still catch myself thinking things like, “I could use that idea in a lesson” and “How many days before I have to go back to work?”

As I embark on my new life, filled with family, farm, travel,and writing I want to chronicle the phases and stages I go through. I’ll be recording my feelings, both high and low, my “Ah, ha moments”, and moments of inspiration. I will also post some thoughts and pet-peeves about education. (Just because I have left the teaching profession doesn’t mean that I have stopped caring.)

I’d love to hear from anyone who is going through a similiar life change. So happy reading and I hope to see your comments!