Tag Archives: California

The Joy of Teaching Beyond the Classroom: An Open Letter to My Former Students

August from Cell 2014 290Making the decision to retire from the classroom was one of the most difficult I ever made. Though teachers experience their fair share of discomfort, disillusionment, and sometimes even heart break, this teacher madly loved the job.  Loved the studies that brought me to the profession, loved the planning, the research, the sheer delight of living a life devoted to education.  I loved my colleagues, my books, my classroom with those huge windows and the long metal pole it took an expert to hook into the forty-year-old locks so that we could let in the air, and sometimes the snowflakes.  Those windows overlooked the playground, sports field, and elevated neighborhood behind it.  I remember well the pain of coming back after one of our wildfires to see that neighborhood largely destroyed, blackened, treeless, and empty.  The subsequent rebuilding, and the return of families and new green life.  I loved the bells.  I loved hall duty, laughing with my friends and all of those fresh young backpack laden rebels.  Mostly, I loved you, my kids.

Each year I remember telling my classes that their eighth grade year was going to race by, that before we all knew it, we’d be saying goodbye. And sure enough, those months did disappear quickly, relentlessly leading us to the last day of school, when I proudly sent you all off to high school.  But I always knew I’d still see you around the mountain, and that you’d sneak into my classroom during seventh period for a quick hug, looking all big and different and like a more defined version of the person I’d laughed with, explained the differences between colons and semi-colons to, crafted with, making things like Poe Ravens to decorate the doorway, and cried with over Anne Frank’s capture.  You were growing up.

When school started this year for the first time without me, I cried. Not only was I not in school, I wasn’t even in the same state.  Tough times, kids!  But I realized something this morning, had an epiphany when I got a message from a student I taught some ten years back.  Hey, Mrs. P. I wrote a book; would you read it and give me your opinion? 

Heck, yes! Social media may be discouraged by some, particularly high level administrators worried about possible sticky situations, and I understand that, but for me, your old teacher caught between California and the Midwest, wondering if I did enough when I had the chance, it is a lovely lifeline.  You send me messages, post pictures of your accomplishments, funny moments, likes and dislikes.  I get a lot of dog pictures.  And I love it!  So, I just wanted to say, you are all remarkable human beings, every one of you.  So I guess once a teacher, always a teacher.  And I thank God for that.

Carpe Diem! Mrs. P.

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July 2, 2014, Salem, Wisconsin–Two Days In.

     About a week ago, I retired from a fantastic teaching job after nearly two decades so that I could write. And because my loving, and much-loved husband got a job across the country. A job he needed, wanted and deserved.
      And because I was tired.
      And frankly, because I was afraid. Afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace and do it with love and style. Afraid that my cancer wasn’t going to stay in the past, was sending me signals through chromogranin blood and 24 hour urine collection tests that I took regularly and that I didn’t understand but sure saw going up. That I’d be dealing with “it” once again, and I’d miss too much, too many hours of planning lessons worth learning, giving relevant feedback, and connecting with love and meaning to my dear students and their families.
To those of you who scoff at my description of 8th grade kids as dear, I say, throw away that prejudice. Junior High age children haven’t changed a bit. They are as lovely and strong and confused and thirsty for answers as they’ve always been. They are gorgeous and deserving of love, respect, and guidance. They are us when we were twelve, thirteen. Filled with energy, depression, fear, joy, and self-indulgent superiority. Us. Then. They need us, and if we love them, they even want us around—old people who care and are willing to suspend the easy judgments that flow and have always flowed, like a mean, mean river around us, separating us, generation by generation—now that we are so experienced and “wise.”
And because, forgive me, my intestinal health was much compromised by my earlier surgeries and my condition, and I hate, hate, hated having to run out of class, interrupting the art class next door, putting my wondrous friend/fellow teacher Heide on notice that I was already gone, could she please watch my class as well as her own.
It seemed enough.
This meant leaving California. The San Bernardino Mountains. The Rim of the World. An amazing community—a gorgeous resort I was more than privileged to live in. A real home. Friends to die for (and I would!). Church. School. Family.
My daughter, son-in-law, and four grandchildren, all of whom love me as dearly as I love them.
Am I crazy, selfish, cold-hearted? What? I pray it’s none of that.
I was an unlikely nomad in childhood, spent hundreds of hours in cars moving from one place to another. Lived with a lot of people. Only had one house my mother owned, and that for just a few years. I more than loved that place on Winslow. It was haven, heaven, heart. But I learned to move on. When I was young, I learned that.
Hated it, but learned it. Change is as inevitable as death and taxes. There’s no getting around it for most of us. I know we can all site examples of people we know who never changed their address, and maybe they were even lucky enough to die before their loved ones, but those people are few and far between. For most of us, we either keep going or we lose more than we had.
I won’t lose the love of my home in California, my community, my students, their families, the pines, or the spectacular rocky cliffs. They will always be right here. My daughter sometimes doubts that we will survive this. She counts the likely number of times we will be together again before I die. I wish I could explain. I’m trying to now. I’ve lost mother, father, step-father, brother, mother-in-law- so many. But I’m not alone, nor empty. Perhaps I am fuller, feeling each of them taking up such a large part of my heart. They, those who loved me, and everyone else, every place else, stay with me. And I will stay with them.
If they wish it.
Mahalo, and greetings from Wisconsin, USA. May your path be as valuable to your heart as mine has been to me.


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Leaving Lake Arrowhead

ImageStaying Up, Falling Down, and Surviving Sea Level

January 7, 2014

Over the edge.  That’s a very genuine concern I’ve had as a mountain citizen.  Staying up here, not falling over the edge, I mean.  And I’m sure I’m not in a minority.  It happens all too often; a vibrant life taken by a curve, a boulder, a patch of ice, another driver.  Going over the edge is the risk we mountain folk  take living a life which propels us along a highway called Rim of the World, many of us climbing up and down and far into the tangled freeways below on a regular, if not constant, basis.   I tuck the fear away and try to imagine myself connected to the road, guided by an invisible yet powerful track that won’t ever allow me to really experience that dream sequence free-fall into nothing.  You know the one.  That’s my secret for staying on the Rim.  But it’s more than the roads; it’s the life.  The life above.  The views, the air, the bears, the lake.  Knowing you’ve been granted something very rare, somehow you’ve been allowed to live for a while in a place of great beauty.

We’ve been approaching that edge, my husband and I, none-the-less, for quite some time.  As much as we’ve tried to maintain our security here, the ground has been relentlessly slipping away beneath us.  It began, as far I can tell, about the time my brother became ill and we brought him to live with us.  I had idolized him all of my life.  My husband loved him dearly.  Despite our efforts, hopes, and our very deep love, we soon realized that he wasn’t going to get better, was in fact getting worse, and that we weren’t going to be able to save his life.  Slip.

That was also a time of financial hardship for much of the country.  While my job was secure, there were no foreseeable raises, and benefits were costing more.  My husband, used to working long hours and getting plenty of overtime, was reduced to part-time hours and part-time wages.  Slip.

Soon, my emergency appendectomy, a surprise in itself, removed another wedge of stability when we learned the appendix had contained a rare goblet cell adenocarcinoid tumor.  Slip.

I began to hear a quiet rumble.  Felt it under my feet and inside my soul.

Mike was no longer working at all.

Billy was so sick.

I was scheduled for surgery and then chemotherapy.

Over the edge.  Slipping.  Fearing a violent end.  Praying for peace.

When Billy died, so did a part of me.  We mourned him as we tried to maintain our balance, still on the edge, and teetering.  Within two weeks, our dear old dog died.  She had refused to eat after losing Billy.  Then our darling seventeen-year-old cat followed.

We lived in a house of death, set on top of a purple mountain, surrounded by deep green forests, and lit by gentle sun and easy moon.  I held on to the beauty, clung to it for life, dug my heels into the slivering earth wanting nothing more than stability…that and an end to death and was that too much to ask?


Those months, those years, did take us over the edge.  And we’re leaving the mountain now.  But not into the abyss.  We chose Wisconsin, instead.  It’s pretty flat there, and Mike has a new job.  It’s a bittersweet compromise.  My grown children and grandchildren will be so far away.  They are sad, and I am torn.  I trust we will find wonderful new ways to connect, both in Wisconsin and back here in California when I’m able to visit.  I’m also leaving friends, a church family, and the amazing students, teachers, administrators, and staff of Rim of the World Unified School District.  A career that’s given me a heart so full that I know I will never be lonely.  A community I love.

But we didn’t fall off the mountain.  We leave here whole and nourished.  Back at sea level, Mike begins a new job doing what he loves most.  I will rest and write and maybe escape the ghosts I loved and left up in a beautiful place, on the edge of a continent, a place called Lake Arrowhead.

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