My Last Day

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Not long ago, I handed in my letter of resignation. I made two hard creases and folded up 13 years of teaching English at a rural high school in Northern Indiana.

Friday was my last day in the classroom. The first student who opened my door that morning handed me a card and a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. I read the card after she left. “I’ll be praying for you and your family,” she wrote.

The whole day was bittersweet, just like that.

This summer my family of four will begin our new life in Winnipeg, a large urban city in central Canada. It’s been a dream of ours for years. There comes a time when the only way to make a dream come true is to stop dreaming and take action.

Sometimes that means letting go of a regular paycheck and a regular routine. And the security of sensibly-placed furniture.

At least for a time.

As I emptied my classroom of 13 years of memories and supplies, I needed the help of others. I handed out most of my belongings to students and teachers. I doled out handfuls of pens and highlighters, my famous collection of kitschy garden gnomes, a giant lamp shaped like a tree stump with three perching owls on it, and hundreds of pieces of magnetic poetry. I gave away coffee mugs and framed artwork. I removed special books from my shelves, sat down and wrote notes inside them, and went to deliver them to students who might treasure a particular book from me. It felt good to give things away. It also felt strange.

So many pieces of me. Scattered.

In the afternoon, 20 or so students from Mr. Thompson’s English classroom suddenly stormed mine with an arctic blast of symbolism. These former students of mine blasted me with laughter and a blizzard of hundreds of crumpled paper snowballs.

Soon after, Mr. Thompson stopped by with a smile and a big snow shovel. He cleared the floor of the wadded-up notebook paper. His students left the snowballs a few inches deep.

Friday was strange in unspeakable ways and my stomach didn’t feel like eating lunch.

Before I left at the end of the day, two students dropped by to say goodbye. A.J. noticed my cool astronaut water bottle, still half-full, sitting on my desk. He wondered if he could have it.

I was suddenly overcome with thirst. But I knew he would enjoy it.

Then, once it was time to go — get this — these two students asked if they could pray for me.

Yes, A.J.

Yes, Kyla.

I wouldn’t want my life in the classroom to end any other way.

Special note: As our family gears up for this big move, we face many unknowns. The days before us will surely bubble and froth with adventure. My plan is to share the continuing story with you during these life-changing months as often as I can.

If you think of us, my family thanks you for your prayers.

I am grateful for the community which has formed over the last year, here on my page. You’ve left more than just messages in comment boxes. You’ve left gifts of encouragement and personal connection, so my prayers are with you, too.

 

Valerie’s Got It Covered

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The sun enters my classroom after my students leave, and I’m thankful once again for how light can melt the side of my cheek.

Valerie parks her heavy custodial cart just outside my room. Through the window in the door, I see her unroll and tear off two trash bags. She reaches for the doorknob.

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Stretching a Prayer

This is my seventh hour in the classroom, and the sun surprises me, clearing up my coffee mug with fresh peppermint tea.

Today even the boys band together. They’re wearing pink t-shirts for a reason. Especially the basketball players. One sits at the back of my room. But he’s not reading, at least not like the others.

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Moving

I used to talk to myself a lot during my college years. Maybe I had too much time on my hands. But our conversations were sometimes illuminating. 

Sometimes.
 
It was a sunny day, early in the fall semester. I sat beside a window on the library’s top floor. My limbs weighed heavy with pressing questions, the ones about distant destinations. From my oversized chair, I saw how the laurel oaks were shedding their leaves and already covering up paths. Was one of them mine?
 
I wanted out of that library.
 
The weight of my books didn’t matter. Back then, I needed only a single leather strap over my shoulder to tote around everything that mattered. My blue Jansport fit like a good home, still mobile enough for me to move.

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Thumbs vs. Voices

In a box somewhere in the basement, I have a button with a bold proclamation on it.

“I’m Thumb-body Specia!”

Everyone in my class got one, though maybe I’m the only one to have kept his all these years.

I don’t know if my self esteem got the intended boost or not. But I did get a shiny button.

And then I think of a friend from my college years. Ken still had a smelly gym locker full of contempt for the state of public education. “Teach students to have self esteem? Come on! Teach them how to Continue reading

How Are Your Grades?

What if God decided to assess our spiritual performance by using nine-week grading periods?

Or, if the Trinity preferred, trimesters could be instituted, with some form of cumulative assessment at the end of each.

Either way, everybody knows when these terms come to a close. The rectangle yard of my desk usually serves as a harbinger. There, unmarked papers start multiplying like white bunnies, while those with red streaks huddle together next the computer, waiting to be placed in their cage.

Why must it take so long to stuff them inside?

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Rubbing My Eyes

I’ve been bludgeoning my students for years. It’s a hard lesson, but they’ve got to learn it.

“Look for the good,” I tell them, again and again, until they’re good and bloody.

So why am I so passionate in wielding this aphoristic club? Partly because, once upon a time, those daily swings of grace finally provoked me to get out of a pit. That movement first began with a single Post-it note nailed down to my desk at school. I determined to jot down a few good moments for which I could be thankful. In the beginning, I discovered them slowly.

One or two words at a time.

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