I am so grateful for having been able to celebrate my retirement from middle school teaching with more than eighty friends, family, and colleagues recently. I did not plan on giving a speech. The party was a short two hours and I wanted everyone to have fun, eat delicious food, drink, and enjoy each other’s company. In that respect, it could not have been better. Even the weather turned out to be perfect.
The success is due in large part to Cinder, where we held the party, including several former students who manage and work there. Thank you to Sam, Kathleen, Raymond, Tia and the whole crew! If you’re in the area, I cannot recommend Cinder enough. I thought I could plan this party myself, but my dear friends and “party planners” Tina and Marika rescued me when I came to my senses. They did so much behind the scenes to make this a perfect party.
The morning of the party, I started to wonder what I would say IF I suddenly found myself having to give a speech. I jotted some notes on an index card, which are now becoming this blog post, a much preferred method of delivery for me!
A Long Route to Pawcatuck
Twenty-seven years ago I got a call for an interview in a place called Pawcatuck. I had no idea where it was but was delighted when I pulled out a map and realized it was on the coast, right next to Misquamicut, where my family vacationed during my childhood. What a great place to live and work for a few years, I thought.
I have been thinking a lot about community as I approach retirement. In 1995, my community was overseas, having lived and worked in South America for five years. Some may think it would be difficult to move to Bolivia pre-internet to start a new life. I admit I had last-minute doubts as my plane passed over the hours-long stretches of green nothingness en route to Santa Cruz. My fears were unfounded, however, as I instantly became a part of a close-knit group of people, both local and international, and developed lasting friendships. After joining another close-knit community in Brazil for three years, I thought I would return to the US for a brief stint before rejoining the international community.
The transition back to the US was actually more difficult than the move to South America. I missed my friends in Bolivia and Brazil. I also longed for the languages I left behind, tasty and cheap food, slower pace of life, and the chance to have an adventure every time I left my house. Who would become my community here? Who would do my laundry, cook, and clean my house after five years of hired help? Surely I would not stay here for long.
Learning from the Best
So how did it suddenly become 2022 and I’m still here? A big reason is the community I found at Pawcatuck Middle School. This small neighborhood school was filled with some of the most inspiring teachers I’ve ever met. I was lucky to work with Shirley Clay my first year, and soon after that spent many years working closely with Ginny Bitting, Linda Whelan, and Deidre Toole. I’m so happy to remain friends with them so many years later.
When I came to Stonington, I was not a very confident person. I was too shy to even ask a question at staff meetings. Over time, however, my confidence grew because I was surrounded by such talented educators, a list too long to include here. I learned to become more comfortable in my own skin and to be true to myself as a result of the caring community I now belonged to.
The support and inspiration of this community came not just from teachers, but from paraprofessionals who do so much behind the scenes to make each class run smoothly and administrators who encouraged me to keep learning and trusted me to try out new ideas in my classroom. I found support from the office staff, mental health team, Board members, custodians, maintenance crews, nurses. SPS truly is a community of caring individuals who support each other.
This includes the amazing cafeteria staff, including Vicki and Rhonda. “Would you like an extra grilled cheese?” “Try the new broccoli slaw we made.” “Let me wrap up some pizza for you for the weekend.” Always cheerful and generous, I left the lunch line smiling because of their positive attitude and care they showed to each person who stopped by for lunch. I was also reminded of the power of a positive attitude and personal connection, lessons I would try to bring back to my classroom every day. And of course, the food was delicious!
I am also grateful to my students and their families. I have taught more than 2500 students over the past thirty-five years. In Stonington, I found much support and encouragement from students and their families. It’s nice to live and work in the Westerly-Stonington community and see so many former students wherever I go. It’s also great to see a few of them here at my retirement party!
Teaching wasn’t the only thing that kept me here. In 1996, I became a foster parent to Brandon, and in 2000, a father to Edson and Ricardo. Raising my sons here connected me to a whole new community of families. And my family continues to grow, including my three grandchildren here and two more in Florida. I am so appreciative of Kayla and her family for including me and allowing me to be so involved in Anave and Zinnia’s lives.
Though I am the youngest of six, I am the first to have grandkids and nearly the first to retire. It’s fun to still have a little sibling rivalry at this age, but more importantly, it is my family’s love, support, and confidence in me that has guided me across continents and helped me to realize that this is my community. I am so fortunate to have such strong role models as my older brothers and sisters.
I’ve been lucky to make friends all over the world and look forward to visiting some of them in retirement. More recently, my friend group in Westerly has expanded after becoming involved with the Westerly Anti-racism Coalition. If anyone wants to find me in retirement, just stop by the post office steps any Sunday from 11:00-1:00. I did one day last year and have been meeting incredible people who are working hard to make our world a better place. I’m learning to be a better activist and am feeling more and more connected to this community. The learning never stops and the opportunities to make a difference are endless.
Whether you attended my retirement party or just happen to be reading this, I have one final homework assignment: Thank a teacher. Over the years, I’ve received lots of chocolate and coffee shop gift cards. While each gift is very much appreciated, the most special ones are the notes or expressions of gratitude. It has been a rough couple of years for teachers, and an even harder past few weeks. A message of thanks will do wonders to lift any teacher’s spirits.
I may still travel the world (and bring Vicky Ann along when she can), but it is clear to me now that this is my home. I look forward to many years of continuing to build community right here in this corner of the world.