This is the sound of walking into retirement for me and so many teachers this spring. Although friends are already emailing to congratulate us on this new journey, we’re all alone while packing up our offices and classrooms for the last time. There will be no big parties, no formal farewells, no cozy get-togethers where everyone dredges up the good, sad, and funny days of our teaching careers.
These celebrations may be replaced with “BYOB and snacks” Zoom parties, or a drive-by with balloons and signs. But these small celebrations can’t compete with the amazing memories that sit inside our silence.
I find the isolation of this stay-at-home teaching has been a gift as I ease into retirement. This gives me time to contemplate what I’ve learned as a teacher, and what I plan to do next. I know I’ll take some art courses. And, of course, I’m going to be writing. A lot.
Mostly, I find myself focusing on the way I’ve grown while teaching creative writing and literature to hundreds of students over a thirty-plus year career. This growth can be reflected in the way my course choices have changed and the creative activities my colleagues and I have incorporated into each class.
Over my time as teaching writer, I’ve gone from teaching “Reporting and Feature Writing” and basic “Creative Writing” to “The Literature of Protest, Violence and Redemption,” “Coming of Age,” a “Graphic Novel Workshop,” and “Digital Storytelling.” The more experimental a class, the more involved students appeared.
In creative writing classes, my students created visual art and photographs to accompany their poetry in response to “I Am…” A few classes decorated a Poetree that stood in the English Department hallway for a while so that everyone in the university could see our poetry and add a poem or take a poem. Magic wands with words to live by became a tradition in “Coming of Age,” a bridge to helping students share their own family coming-of-age traditions. Over the past two years, students have been adding to a laundry line of poetry that hung outside the English Department offices as a reminder that every day brings hope and new ideas.
After my colleague Dr. Paula Reiter and I made more than a dozen cakes and colleagues Dr. Jennifer Kontny and Professor Laura Otto donated frosting and cake decorating materials, our students frosted them with book cover designs, showing us the way back to the early books — many of them picture books — that drew them into an English major.
What about you? Whether you’re retiring or simply walking through the silence that is the end of a pandemic semester, what memories are you taking with you?