I often describe teaching as the hardest and most rewarding job I ever had. While I’ve been happily retired for three years, there are certain parts of the job that I miss. It is hard to let go of something that was such a large part of my life for thirty-one years.
The thing that I miss the most about teaching is an absolute no-brainer. It is and always will be the students. It’s hard to put into words how special my students were to me. Teachers often refer to their students as “their kids”, and most of us mean that literally. Even though many of my former students are now adults, I still picture them as “my kids”.
I still get the occasional unexpected letter from a former student thanking me for being a good teacher or because they want to tell you about some exciting moment in their life. The fact that they want to share significant life events reinforces how important the teacher/student relationship is.
I’ve been to birthdays, graduations, weddings, and housewarming parties of prior students. I’ll never forget the second-grade boy who brought in an invitation for me to attend his sleepover. Of course, I didn’t attend, but what a precious memory.
I’ve always maintained that the student/teacher is mutually beneficial. While I was trying to be a good teacher and role model to my students, I wasn’t aware (when I first started) how much I would get back from them. When you demonstrate through your actions that you care about your students, they pay you back many times over.
Children can also be the best teachers. One of the most beautiful qualities of elementary students is their ability to forgive each other when they have a conflict. You seldom see children hold a grudge because most want to be friends with everyone. Nearly all of the children I taught were respectful and tolerant of individual differences. My experience was that kids were far less prejudicial or judgmental than many adults I know.
A wonderful part of being a teacher was the opportunity to work with other dedicated professionals. I had so many different jobs in my life, but educators develop a special kinship in a way I never felt in any other position. It is the type of camaraderie one shares with any close team. I imagine it is the same feeling that people in a military platoon or college sports team form. Not only were so many of my colleagues outstanding educators, but they were also good people.
I once made a list of the twenty most influential people in my life, and over half of them were former teachers or people I worked with in education. A good teacher can influence a person for the rest of his/her life.
I was blessed to work with so many outstanding people during my educational career, and some are still role models to me in retirement. One of the people in my writing critique group, Nancy, was one of my master teachers during my student teacher year, and she later became my colleague and principal. She has been a lifetime mentor to me, and her passion for education and children is infectious. It’s been wonderful to spend time with her each week. Many of her writing pieces are about former students that she taught.
My educational family is so important to me that each month we gather for a retirement lunch. While much of the talk centers around travel and grandchildren, I can always count on the conversation turning back to former students at some point. We laugh and share memories and take pride when we learn about accomplishments that our former students have made in their lives.
When you teach long enough, especially at the same school, you form lasting relationships with many of your students’ families. Part of a teacher’s responsibility is to keep your students’ families informed. You should be working in conjunction as a team. Sometimes it wasn’t easy—not all parents are going to be active and supportive. On the other hand, when parents see how much you care, the chances of garnering their support becomes far more likely.
Since I live in the same community that I taught in, I have the frequent pleasure of running into old students and their families. It is always great to hear what my former students are doing now. One of the things I take special pride in is that some of my prior students have become teachers—one in the elementary school where I taught.
I taught long enough that by the end of my career, I was teaching many second-generation students. What a pleasure it was to have a parent tell me that he/she wanted to have their child in my class because of the positive experience they had when they were my student.
The Privilege of Teaching
I miss the responsibility of being a teacher. It is not a job that any educator should take lightly. I had several teachers who were role models and guided me when I went through school, and I welcomed this challenge as a teacher. How many people get the opportunity to help change lives?
You see some heartbreaking things when you are in education. I taught students who lost a parent or sibling the year they were in my class. Some of my children had to endure the breakup of their parents’ marriage or watch a loved one go to prison. Not every story has a happy ending. Life is not always fair, and the innocent victims in situations such as these were often the kids.
In spite of this, every school year had moments of joy. One of the regular things that made me the happiest was watching students feeling proud of themselves from their accomplishments. Sometimes the rewards don’t come the year a child is in your class but manifest themselves years later when you see that your students have grown into responsible young adults.