One year ago today I said goodbye to my life as a high school teacher. I graded the last final exam, entered the last grade, hugged a dozen or more kids, packed up my desk, and moved on.
No, I’m not crying. Really, I’m fine.
Over the past couple of weeks, former colleagues and students have been posting milestones on Facebook — the last week of classes, prom, senior assembly, baccalaureate, etc. I’ve been smiling as I view the updates and click ‘like’ on dozens of pictures each day. And, I’ve been feeling a dull ache in my chest. I miss that part of my life!
Don’t get me wrong — where I am now is where I am supposed to be! I am confident of that. I don’t think I’ve quite landed at my new normal yet, but I am definitely on my way there. I love being back in Michigan where we can see family much more easily. I am reaping the benefits of a slower pace. I am truly enjoying my tutoring work with students aged six to thirty-something. But, you know, my life as a high school teacher was a pretty sweet ride.
Here is what I miss:
- working side-by-side with some of the most committed professionals I have ever encountered — The staff at Lutheran High School North in St. Louis is made up of a team of individuals who love kids and are willing to sacrifice time, talent, and treasure in order to walk with those kids on their educational journeys. In my book they are second-to-none; they made me a better human.
- creating the culture of a classroom –– A magic exists inside the walls of a classroom where a teacher can foster the exchange of ideas and a community of learning. Each room is different; each year is different.
- watching dorky little freshmen grow into adults — Each year I would be amazed as the seniors entered the building in August so much differently than they had entered three years earlier: more confident, more aware of themselves, and yet, more considerate of others. The freshman who couldn’t unlock, or even find, his own locker, turned into a senior leader who showed the new freshmen the ropes.
- being surprised by visits from alumni — Sure, I was in the middle of instruction, but a knock on the door and an interruption from a student I hadn’t seen in three years was always greeted with a hug and a brief interview in front of my students. What did you learn at college? What do you wish you would’ve known before you got there? What is your favorite memory of Lutheran North?
- finding amazing wisdom in the writing of teenagers — It didn’t happen every day, but it wasn’t rare to read an essay written by a sixteen-year-old that used such beautiful phrasing or such vivid imagery that I would be compelled to carry the paper down the hall to read it out loud to one of my colleagues.
- being challenged by the young people who watched what I did day in and day out and weren’t afraid to enter into dialogue with me — Mrs. Rathje, why do you drink so much coffee? How long have you been married? Would you be willing to go talk to another teacher with me? I noticed that you are wearing glasses today; you don’t usually do that. Did you ever feel like God wasn’t answering your prayers? My mom is having surgery today; would you pray for her?
Yeah, it was a pretty sweet ride. The teachers, students, and experiences I encountered at Lutheran North have forever changed me. They influence the work that I do today. All those stacks of papers I read over the years gave me the experience I needed to be able to do the editing and proofreading I do for graduate students now. The years of figuring out how best to manage the erratic behavior of students in the classroom prepared me to work with a variety of students one-on-one. My interactions with other teachers made me more sensitive to the ways that I communicate with coworkers and more equipped to receive constructive criticism. My discussions with parents grew my heart and helped me better understand the complexity of family systems and how they impact the lives of students. I was, during all that time, being prepared for what was next.
And now I’m in the “what’s next,” being prepared for what comes after this. It’s pretty remarkable. Life is school; school is life. That’s probably the title for another blog post on another day.
For now let me say, my hat is off to you, Lutheran North. I am, and will ever be, proud to say I am part of the Crusader family. I love and miss you all and pray that God prepares each of you, too, for whatever He has next for you.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.