Friday was the Last Day, which made Saturday the First Day … and today is the First Weekday of Summer for teachers and other “school people” in These Parts. The Girl and The Boy have both left for fairly lengthy summer adventures, so The Dog and I celebrated our “first Monday of freedom” with a peaceful morning nap and a few much-needed household tasks. I’m sure there will be more naps and more household tasks in the next few days, too.
It’s traditional in These Parts to invite friends and family members to school retirement celebrations. Ms. B, who’s retiring at the end of the month, really didn’t want a celebration at all, and she certainly didn’t want her whole family there. But she did, somewhat reluctantly, allow a few former co-workers to be invited. It was good to see them on Friday, good to share memories of the good old days with them. But One Former Colleague asked a question that really struck me.
“How long is it,” she half-whispered, “till you get to stay home?”
What she meant, of course, was, “How many years until you can Officially Retire?” But the way she phrased it really struck me. For That Colleague, who (at least in my memory) was a diligent, thoughtful worker in her working days, it seems that the notion of joy or calling in one’s work never entered her imagination. For her, apparently, work is something you do until you get to stay home.
Some fifty years ago, a teacher-friend of my parents told them a story that became a family legend. She’d assigned her class of second- or third-graders to write about why education was important, and one child had a unique interpretation. You need a good education, he wrote, so you can “go to collar” and then have a “good retiermat.” No mention was made of the years or decades between.
In other words, it’s all about getting to stay home as soon as you can.
My parents chuckled, their friend chuckled, and when I was old enough to grasp the point of the story, I chuckled, too. But I didn’t chuckle when my former colleague asked about getting to stay home. When I think of the happy retirees I know (and I know a lot of happy retirees these days!), I don’t think any of them would describe their life as getting to stay home. In fact, most of them are hardly ever “home” … they’re busy with volunteer projects, with travel, with favorite hobbies they finally have time for. “I know you want to do This Excellent Program,” one such friend said yesterday, “but I know you won’t be able to do it till you retire. There’s no hurry!”
Summer break, for teachers and students in factory-model schools, is a bit like a mini-retirement in some ways. It’s time-limited, of course, and Many A Ms. X or Mr. Y fretfully counts down the days in the same way they’ll be counting down during the new school year. But the days themselves? You decide how to fill them. The schedule? You set it, within some limits, for yourself. That can be scary for Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y. “What would happen,” a friend asked me in a recent Google Hangout, “if teachers at a factory-model school dismissed their students a minute before the bell one day? It’s not like the Powers That Be could really do anything about that!” Well, actually, that happened within the last few weeks … because The Bell was delayed (due to Testing, of course) but no Official Announcement had been made. Result? A strongly-worded email from the Relevant Powers to everyone, reminding them that under no circumstances were they to trust their own “timing devices.”
I’m sure Ms. X rolled her eyes and counted the seconds until she will get to stay home. And then, if she “let those bad, lazy kids talk her into doing it,” she probably yelled and labeled at them.
Over the weekend, I read Dennis Littky’s book The Big Picture, which he published back in 2004 at the beginning of the current round of High-Stakes Tests and Higher Standards. There’s a great deal of timeless wisdom in the book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in building alternatives to factory-structures. But building those alternatives from the inside? It may not be harder in 2014 than it was a decade ago, but it’s different. “Just close my door,” Ms. X said back then, “and let me teach, because This Too Shall Pass.” But That Ms. X got to stay home a few years ago, and Ms. X Today lives in a world of compliance checks and walk-throughs and mandates and requirements that would have made That Ms. X’s head spin. That Ms. X’s factory-school produced neatly sorted and packaged students, their grades and test scores indicating what sorts of industrial-era jobs they were best suited for. Ms. X Today? Her factory-school produces test scores and data.
As summer begins in These Parts, and as it continues in Some Other Parts and approaches in Yet Others, getting to stay home is understandably on people’s minds. But after a few much-needed days of rest, our attention will turn elsewhere. Where will it turn? What kinds of joyful learning communities and learning experiences will we participate in? What new insights will we embrace? What new directions will we go in, and where will our pathways lead us? What parts of our lives will require us to take ownership in new, different ways, and what will be the implications?
More questions than answers today, but I have a feeling the answers will begin to reveal themselves in the days and weeks to come.