Reflections on Life as a High School Teacher, re-visit

This post, first written in May 2015 (and edited in May 2019) is one of my most read — probably because my Lutheran North people love me almost as much as I love them.

One year ago today I said goodbye to my life as a high school teacher. I graded the last exam, entered the final grade, hugged a dozen or more kids, packed up my desk, and moved on.

Sniff!

No, I’m not crying. Really, I’m fine.

Sniff!

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 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 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, such vivid imagery, or such concise wisdom 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? 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.

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.”

Philippians 1:6

A Lesson in Planning

When our children were little, three aged five and under, I built a pretty concrete schedule for how our days would go.  I literally wrote it down.  The teachers out there might understand this, or those who desperately crave control in their lives.  It literally looked something like this.

  • 6:30am Wake up and breakfast
  • 7:00  Clean up and get dressed
  • 7:30 Play time
  • 8:00 Morning Lesson — Letter of the day, songs, play-doh
  • 9:00 Outside play
  • 10:00 Quiet time

It really was that planned out.  My mother, who raised four children of her own without killing anyone, once came to stay with the kids while my husband and I went out of town for the weekend.  I actually typed up the daily schedule including menu recommendations and clothing options and printed it out for her.  I believe it was three pages long.

Yeah, you can judge me.

Looking back, I believe that I was utterly overwhelmed by the fact that I had three children so close together.  One way to not feel so overwhelmed was to order my day down to the minute.  We ate at the same time every day, slept at the same time every day, went to the library the same day every week, and never missed an activity at church.  In fact, even after the kids were all in school, I would create themes for the summer and plan activities to support the theme.  I really wanted order, control, and predictability.

I know what you are thinking.  All of my planning didn’t prevent the unpredictable.  You are right.  I couldn’t plan for illnesses, for accidents that took us to the emergency room, or for unexpected visitors at the front door.   In fact, I didn’t do well when these interruptions occurred.  I often got crabby and grumbled around the house because reality didn’t match my expectations.

But I learned my lesson, right?

I wish I could say that I had.  I am still learning how to be fluid, to roll with the punches.  This past week was a refresher course.  I would go to bed thinking I knew what the next day held, only to realize, upon waking, that something totally different was in store.  Probably the capstone of the week was yesterday — my husband and I had decided we would have a slow Saturday morning, followed by some errand running, a walk with the dog, and then a date night at home.  Doesn’t that sound lovely?  Here’s what really happened.  We woke to find that about a hundred ants had moved into our kitchen.  We handled that situation, one of us more graciously than the other.  Then, once I had a good snit worked up, I insisted on cleaning not just the floor where the ants had been, but the entire kitchen.  While I was at it, I might as well make a huge breakfast, which was delicious, but created more clean up.  We got through about half the errands then stopped off at home for a moment where we were greeted by out of town guests that we had forgotten “were passing through”.  After a lovely visit with them, we decided we could still fit in a short walk, scrounge some food together, and watch some NCAA basketball — our date night.

My Friday night planning didn’t circumvent the unexpected of Saturday.  I spent about an hour or two of my morning fussing and fuming, but thankfully, was able to start “rolling” with the alternate plan by around noon.  It turns out that sipping tea while reading children’s books in a local bookstore is pretty relaxing.  Chatting with family that we hadn’t seen in a while was a lovely break in our day.  Watching the Spartans lose (poor Izzo!) was not necessarily enjoyable, but it was time spent with the guy I would choose over everyone else.

So, I re-learned the lesson yesterday, right?

Nope.  I needed a refresher course today.  Almost all of the things we had planned for today have changed.  Almost every single one. Did I roll with it?  Not at first.  I fussed and fumed a bit.  Verbalized my frustration.  Then, settled in to what was going to be.  Turns out I got lots of quiet time, a nice little rest, a second cup of tea, and a delicious meal is roasting in the oven.  Not exactly what I had planned.  It’s actually an improvement.  Maybe this time the lesson will stick.

Psalm 33:11

But plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.