I have been retired from teaching in the public school system for eleven years now, but I have never quit teaching mathematics in one way or another. For a time I worked as a tutor and then I began educating Home School students. Somehow I have not been able to fully give up teaching, so my brain still works according to the school calendar and daily schedule.
I sometimes allow myself to sleep in until about eight in the morning from June through July, but once the schools reopen for teacher inservice sessions, I find myself automatically waking up just before sunrise. It is as though somehow the routine is ingrained in my brain and I can’t and don’t want to make it go away. I begin gathering pencils and pens and folders and spiral notebooks at the store. I think of ways to make my lessons more interesting and understandable. I get planning books, even though I should probably prepare my lessons online. I purchase batches of copy paper and bundles of sticky notes. I am a creature of habit and these are my tools.
The start of a school year makes me think of new shoes and clothes that are brand new. I look at book bags and even purchased a new one for myself. It’s lavender and will hold my laptop nicel. when I travel from house to house to meet with my students. I also think of school pizza, the favorite lunch for virtually every student.
Everyone wants to eat the cafeteria lunch on pizza day, even though the only topping on the educational variety is cheese. The kids don’t seem to mind at all that there is no pepperoni, or sausage, or hamburger on top. The kind they get at lunch has no olives or green pepper and certainly no anchovies or pineapple, which is probably a good thing for them. Nonetheless, they line up for the square slice of pizza that comes from a huge sheet pan and none of it ends up in the garbage like so much of the food. I think some of them would enjoy having pizza at least once every week and burgers as well. Everything else other than maybe burritos and the annual November turkey dinner tends to fill the trash cans at the end of each lunch session, which is a topic for another time.
I find myself craving pizza as we near the opening day, which for me will be August 17, this year. I still can’t believe that we all made it through the pandemic. I’ve been Zooming since the spring of 2020 and only returned to my students’ homes in the last few weeks of May, 2022. Someone among them was constantly getting sick and I knew that they needed for me to stay well, so I became a remote teacher for two years. I’ll be glad to be back in person but there was something nice about being able to teach in pajama pants and bare feet. Perhaps I will miss that.
Some of my homeschool students have graduated to Junior or Community Colleges. It’s heartwarming to know that they are succeeding and that I did my job well for them, but for me teaching is actually so much more than just work. I often wonder when I will become too old or too tired to keep doing this. For now, I have found it to be a kind of lifesaver that keeps me feeling as though I still have a purpose in this world beyond my own family and household. I don’t know why, but that matters to me. It is a driving force that stimulates and motivates me.
My curriculum runs the gamut from using pizzas as fractions for fourth graders to explaining the fundamentals of Algebra II that prepare students for Calculus. It’s fun to put together the building blocks and watch the construction of mathematical knowledge grow as I move the same students from one stage to another. It’s a delight that I never had when I was tied to one grade level or one specific type of mathematics. Now I see how the pieces fit together and it is instructive for me. I wish all teachers had such an opportunity because the progression is important to understand. I think knowing these things has made me a better and better teacher over time.
Soon the buses will be coming at six thirty in the morning. The children will be giggling on the corner as they line up to pile inside. I’m hoping that this will be a better year for teachers than the past few have been. I’m hearing that virtually every school has openings because many have chosen to leave the profession. It has become increasingly difficult to be a teacher in today’s environment. The pay is still low. The environment grows more and more demanding and toxic with way too many players making demands. It is truly a sad state of affairs and I feel lucky to be where I am right now.
I no longer need new shoes or clothes, but I think I’ll schedule a haircut since I will be going in person this year. Somehow the idea of having some pizza and a movie day before the vacation ends sound wonderful as well. I’m going for a whole lot of toppings, but I would not mind having one of those plain cheese squares.