Saturday, June 23, 2012

Button, Button.........or, "School's Out!"

Did you notice that I didn't write a single post on this blog for two months?  It's not that I ran out of things to say.....(you wish!)..........but that I was involved in the retirement process.
"Winter in Chains"

 After 21.2 years of teaching in my city's public schools and another 4 years of teaching at a children's hospital, for a total of nearly 25 years,  I called it DONE.  I put the proverbial fork in my career.

4 days to go!
You may know that I kept a paper chain for over 135 work days, (see post of 3/18) counting down to this final day with great anticipation.  It finally came to an end on June 8th at 10 AM.  I drove away from my school with a grin on my face and no trepidation about the decision to retire, made some months ago. I may have plenty to say about that decision in months to come, but right now I just want to shout out my freedom, and express my happiness over it. I came home and ripped that final link off the curtain rod with joy in my heart, shouting, "Free at last!"
"The Missing Link!" All done!

So far I've taken two loads of teaching materials, bulletin boards, my special chair, and a huge number of desk organizers to the Goodwill.  I also have cleaned out clutter at home. I've totally cleaned my laundry room, sorted my shoe collection, made a gift for a friend, and sorted my button collection.

Sorted my button collection?

That sounds strange, I know.  Margie called on my first "real" day of retirement and asked,"What wonderful thing are you doing with your freedom?" to which I responded, "I am sorting buttons."

I needed a mindless activity after all those years of constantly thinking and speaking.

 An enormous box of buttons from my mother's sewing days sat, taking space, next to my sewing area. I use the term  "sewing area" loosely. It's really a sewing machine that's ready at any moment to sew on a button or fix a torn seam.  I do not produce sewed projects.

The buttons, on the whole, are old.  Mom would tear them off clothes that she tossed out. Since she was a sewing woman, she bought lots of buttons, and some remained unused. Many are beautiful mother-of-pearl, some have rhinestone centers, and there are metallic buttons and varying shades of pink, green, blue, yellow, red, and hundreds of shades of brown and black. A huge collection of little envelopes labeled "extra button" which could have gone with anything we'd worn in the past fifty years awaited opening, like time capsules. There were a few buttons I remembered from our childhood clothing or my grandmother's long dresses.  The box was full of history and color! I had bought a box of buttons at a garage sale once..........(somebody else's history) there were thousands of them.

I used sandwich bags, one for each color, and felt like a kindergartner as I sorted.  Varying shades of blues and greens, beige and deep browns............I used my small motor skills, picking them up and putting them into the sacks. This kept me occupied for a very long afternoon...............of peace.

Yes, I had plans for the buttons, but that was not the important part.  What was important during those hours that I sorted and moved each button to a bag was that I RELAXED.

My brain has been so busy all these years with planning and working, that something as trivial as sorting buttons was delightful.  Hours later, when I had finished, and all the buttons were safely ensconced in little plastic bags ready for my button projects, I felt such a sense of accomplishment!

I COULD SEE MY WORK!    I knew what I had accomplished!

In 24.2 years of teaching I could only surmise, sometimes, whether I had accomplished what I'd planned to teach. Good responses and test results may have shown that, yes, my students HAD learned............but with all the diverse students, and their personal issues, who knew, at any given time, if I had finished a job?

I never got to ziplock those brains and know that I had sorted all the material into the compartments and minds.  Too much depended on whether a child had eaten breakfast, had problems at home, dealt with a bully on the way to school, or came prepared to class, to know what was going on with his or her learning experience.  Add this to the many ability levels in any one class, and the huge number of students, each differently motivated (or not), and you get the picture.

It wasn't as easy as sorting buttons.

Throw in some behavior issues and the fact that each student was only in my classroom for 42 minutes..........Imagine, if you will, a huge box into which you have poured 28 bouncing and uncontrollable Ping Pong balls that are miraculously imbued with brains, and then jiggle the box for awhile before you set it down. Then try to be sure that each ball is in its correct spot, still, and learning.  Did I mention the "pacing guide" that tells you what you are supposed to 'learn these young'uns' after they get settled down? (No pressure here..........just be sure to cover ALL the stuff in it.)  And did I mention that the test grades for these balls will show your "worth" at the end of a year? In future years, your very income may be based on these test scores.  Imagine that one, or six, is rebellious, decides to talk aloud all period, keeping all the rest from learning,  or to throw wadded balls of notebook paper at your back while you try to teach......or gets up and leaves in the middle of class.....(and you have to stop class to let the office know this......)

 Aha! NO WONDER sorting buttons was so relaxing!!

I plan to clean out every single drawer, cupboard, closet and hiding place in my home during the next few months. That may be therapeutic, too!

I am not voluntarily turning my brain to mush, mind you...........just giving it a much-needed break from stress, turmoil, and w-o-r-k.  There will be plenty of sorting and cleaning to do in my home and in my life, I am sure, but for now................."School's Out For Summer!" and actually School's Out Forever, for me!

In the fall, when I normally would feel those "sharks circling my feet" (see blog post of  August 24, 2010) I plan to pack my bags and travel some of this marvelous country. (I meant it when I pledged to the flag each day!)

Meanwhile, if I find buttons at a garage sale, I will consider it an "adventure in a jar," and spend some quiet time sorting.......not only the buttons, but thoughts, feelings, and plans for my life!

My Perpetual Students.....The Cat, Snowman, and Paddington spent 13 years in my classroom.

Copyright: KP Gillenwater