Thirty days from tomorrow, on June 15, I will walk out of school as a classroom teacher for the last time. It's a day I've longed for, been ready for, dreamed about, for years. I've completed what I set out to do (become respectable and make a difference in the world) and managed to find myself (defined by so much more than respectability) in the process.
When the longing for something else first began to tickle my heart from the inside, I believed it meant I needed to try harder to make teaching work. I changed grade levels. I became an academic coach. I decided to become a principal.
The longing grew stronger.
And in listening to the longing, in listening to my heart, in trusting for the first time the sweet gentle voice of my soul, I find myself six weeks from a new life.
I told my kids a couple of weeks ago that they are my last third grade class. Some knew because the entire adult community of the small town where my school is located knows. Some were blissfully clueless in the way of kids who have much more important things to do than attend to the world of adults.
Once the kids were reassured I wouldn't be leaving them before the end of the year, their curiosity took over. I answered their "why?" with writing a book and getting it published and being a writer full time. They wanted to know if I'm going to be famous, if I'll be on Oprah. I promised to wave to them and to say hi to the best third grade when I am.
When the idea of leaving public education was just a pleasant daydream, I anticipated how excited I would be in my last days. I imagined telling certain people just what I thought of them. I imagined not caring about following rules, and doing only what I felt like doing. I imagined a great sense of relief and release and rejoicing.
The reality - no real surprise here - has turned out to be quite a different event. There will be no satisfying telling off of anyone. There's no one I really want to set straight. I know that every path is stone-filled and every person is traveling with as much grace and dignity as they can muster. There is no satisfaction in breaking rules (at least overtly). I still need to teach my kids, and I still respect my principal, and I do care. And the only thing I feel strongly, at least today, is sadness.
I'm getting ready to leave a life that I've loved and hated in pretty equal measure. It has wounded and healed me. I have laughed my deepest belly laughs, and cried my most bitter tears.
I've been Mrs. Shucka to somewhere around 600 kids, and been proud of my title. I've created 22 families in nine month increments, and wept every single June when I had to release them to their own lives. I am a celebrity: Not a day goes by that I don't hear my name shouted with enthusiasm and wonder down a hallway, the shouting followed usually by a small body barreling in for a hug. Sitting on Oprah's couch, or talking to Terry Gross, or reading my words to groups of women who share similar stories - none of that will ever quite match the feeling of the status I'm getting ready to walk away from.
The kindergarten brother of one of my girls calls me Mrs. Sugar. How can I possibly top that for an accolade?
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to stay. I'm as ready as I can be for the adventure that awaits. But this adventure is not quite over. And it's been a grand one. Well worth the tears of loss that cleanse my remaining days as an elementary school teacher.
image from Flickr