I have been retired from teaching for 114 school days now or so, my wife informed me this morning at breakfast. The time has gone quickly. I enjoy being retired. I like being more in charge of how I spend my day. I like wearing comfortable clothes most days….you know, the ones I used to change into whenever I got home from work…..those clothes. I like being away from the stress of working for a living. Being retired is good.
But, as much as you can take the teacher out of the school, it is still not possible to take the school completely out of this teacher. I still love reading about the latest children’s picture books, I still enjoy helping out at my public library and I still care about kids.
I find it hard to not care about kids. Kids are such amazing human beings. Their energy, their innocence and their kindness have filled me up for most of my adult life; an addiction, of a sort, that isn’t easily rendered mute by the passage of 114 days. I still smile in their company and draw satisfaction from the relationships I maintain. I remain important to them because they continue to view me as their teacher and, to them, that means I am someone who cares. To me, they are “my kids”, even though some are now young adults out in the world while others remain in the school system, merely older versions of the kids I knew when I still wore work clothes to start my days. I am “friends” on social media with many of my older, adult students. I cherish the connection we maintain. For my younger friends, I walk with springs in my step after seeing them at the Mall or in the grocery store or the Library or wherever. Their hugs are always a tonic to cure whatever ails me.
Children have value and are deserving of respect, simply because they exist. It matters not that they don’t vote yet nor have an income that translates into purchasing power. The measure of their worth is not any company’s bottom line. To some, this makes the worth of children questionable; to be regarded as an expense, as opposed, to an investment worth making. To me, it makes them priceless. I am rich beyond measure for having spent the bulk of my adult life in the company of little humans. It matters not one iota to me that some of them needed help zipping their zippers or tying their laces (when kids still had shoes with laces) or wiping their noses. They were all unique and wonderful and memorable and valued by me then, as they are, now.
The year before I retired, I went to a Retirement workshop that was put on by my Union. A few weekends later, my wife suggested we spend the afternoon going through all of the education-related documents we had on file so that I would have everything ready when it came time to fill out all of the forms that would need to be filled out to process my retirement application. Amid the various job performance appraisals and pay stubs and benefit notices, was a folder that held treasure. It was a folder that contained every single kind letter and note that I had received over the course of my career. I had kept them all. That afternoon, I read them all. It was the best afternoon I had spent in years! While I appreciated the wonderful letters from Principals, co-workers and organizations I was associated with, it was the letters from children and from parents that touched me the most. In particular, there was one letter, written on a scrap of torn green construction paper, written in black crayon, by a Grade 3 student. It simply said, “My mother wanted me to thank you for being so nice to me. She says I am lucky to go to this school. I think I am, too.” That student’s mother was illiterate, struggling in poverty and could not have written that note herself. Her 8 year old daughter had borne the responsibility of speaking on her family’s behalf. It was a small note that had required a big effort and it meant the world to me. I still have it safely tucked away. The presence of that letter and, all of the others, serves to remind me of a life spent in service to children and their families and how the residue of that experiences colours my life to this day.
I type these words at a time in Ontario’s education history when public schools are under attack from the same forces of corporatization that have cut massive swathes through the U.S. public school system, to devastating effect there. Cuts have been announced and the doors to privatization have been opened here by a government that does not value the worth of children. It has announced cuts to programmes aimed at helping support children with special needs. It has announced cuts to programmes aimed at helping students with gender identity challenges. It has announced cuts to programmes that help regular kids zip their zippers and wipe their noses, too. It is attacking Kindergarten children because, after all, isn’t that just glorified daycare anyway? Through it all…and this is just the beginning…..we have adults in charge who view our greatest treasure as mere collateral damage on the road to financial prosperity for themselves and their backers.
Today, educators and their public school allies have been asked to wear black in a show of solidarity against the government’s phony austerity-driven cuts to public schools and, more specifically, to the children who go to them each day. Children deserve champions who will act on their behalf, even when wearing comfortable clothes. Today, my comfortable clothes are black. I wear black because I still care about children. How can you not?