It's a quarter past 3 in the morning, and my first day as a retiree has begun. Honestly, I thought that I would feel far more celebratory than I do. But as I sip my first cup of the coffee for the day and recall the last class of my teaching career, I don't feel like celebrating nearly as much as I feel like crying.

Last night, my students honored me with the gorgeous bouquet in the photo on the left. And as they wrote their exams, the fragrance from the flowers floated around my desk as a macabre reminder that I was attending the funeral of my teaching career. Before I could model one of my favorite literary characters, Anne of Green Gables, and slip into the "depths of despair," I read the messages in the cards that lined my desk:
"Thank you for everything. From day one I thought you were an amazing person we could all learn from. Continue to be amazing!"
"I have loved your class. I want to be just like you when I grow up. Thanks for everything."
"Thanks so much for all of your knowledge you shared with us. My writing has improved drastically, and I am so much more aware of my bad habits. I love writing, so what I learned here will stay with me forever. You are awesome, and I will miss you so much!"
As the exams came in one by one and students began to leave, I couldn't help but feel a profound sense of loss. The excitement of having plenty of free time to pursue things that had been collecting dust in the vault of The Brain turned into the realization that those pursuits all had something to do with teaching and learning! My life, and nearly everything in it, is inextricably linked somehow to education. I am the quintessential geek and wear the badge with honor. I am what I hope I've influenced my students to become -- a lifelong learner.

Among the beautifully wrapped gifts on my desk last night was a package that made me think of a CD or DVD based on its shape. When the class had dwindled down to just four students hastily scribbling in their test books, I began to pack up my things. I picked up the package to put it in my bag but was interrupted by the student who had given it. She asked me to open the gift before we left. As I peeled away the paper, something green came into view. "Green is the color of hope," I thought to myself as I recalled how I had revealed last week that my laptop is green and that I use a color coordinated mouse. Much to my surprise and delight, the package contained the hand-painted sign in the image to the right. "Green is the color of hope," my student reiterated as if she had read my mind.

This simple sign is yet another example of why I love teaching. Midway through the semester, my students had the assignment to analyze a picture book that deals with a controversial topic such as death, adoption, divorce, gay marriage, AIDS, etc. To prepare them for the essay that they would write, I had my students bring to class the book they wanted to work with for an analysis activity using the illustrations. We talked about color symbolism and how the use of color evokes emotion. I wrote several colors on the board -- white, red, black, green, blue -- and we listed the feelings associated with them: white is the color of innocence, purity, goodness, and ignorance; red is the color of love, anger, rage, and wickedness; black is the color of death, evil, and villany; green is the color of greed, jealousy, progress, and hope. In terms of symbolic meanings, especially in medieval literature, green is the color of hope, the promise of things to come like the first green bud poking its head through the frozen mantle. Yes, green is the color of hope. In this case, though, it is the color of hope realized because my student remembered and had found a way to apply her knowledge in the real world. What more could an educator want?

Although I have no more classes to teach or exams to give, my connection to teaching hasn't ended just yet; I still have grading to finish and final grades to calculate and post. When the grading is done, I will close the door on my years of teaching at California State University, Fullerton. It will be over.

Elvis Presley

Though I may flounder as I try to reshape myself in an non-academic setting, I need only remember my own lesson to become a successful retiree:

Green is the color of hope.

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9 Responses
  1. Chelle Says:

    Congratulations on your retirement. It sounds like you were one of those rare individuals who can inspire as well as educate-the world needs more of those but, it's your turn to find things that inspire you. Best wishes.

  2. RA Says:

    Dear Carleen, wishing you all the best at the new chapter of your life! You have received such lovely appreciations from your students, which let me see that you must have been a remarkable and very inspiring teacher. That is the highest point to wish for in a career. Green is indeed the color of hope. Let's hold on to it :). Have a wonderful weekend.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    This is the beginning of a new chapter in your life. Teaching is used in a wide variety of areas and settings and while you have retired from formal classroom teaching, there are still many options and avenues remaining where you can use your unique and special talents. Take some time to accept the sadness that this particular chapter is over and gradually you'll start exploring new ideas. When the next chapter begins, the newness and excitement will be there again, just different. Change is good in many ways but that doesn't mean we won't miss the old :-)

    Enjoy this special weekend!

  4. The Goldfish Says:

    Happy Retirement, Carleen! As the others have said, you must have been an excellent teacher. But I think a period of... if not mourning, then certainly reflection, is completely natural. The sort of people who celebrate their retirement without reservation generally didn't enjoy their work.

    All the best for whatever comes next!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I can just feel what you felt like this morning. After so many years of doing this and then with the blink of an eye you are retired. What a wonderful story about Green being the color of hope and how you must have felt for your student to get that. Just think your presence will always be felt within the students that you have taught throughout the years. What a great achievement that is. Zip, I would have made Elvis' border green to match this LOL. Picky me. One chapter of your life has ended and a new one begins. Green...the color of Hope :) Aloha and have a great Memorial Day weekend :)

  6. Carleen Says:

    LOL, Thom! I actually debated over the color of the frame and ultimately decided to try to match it to the color of the King's lei. See, I was thinking of you in trying to highlight the lei Elvis wore for the Aloha from Hawaii broadcast. Believe it or not, I actually saw that show live on TV and remember it very, very well.

  7. Carleen Says:

    Goldfish, I hadn't thought about retirement from the perspective you mentioned, but it does make sense. Of course I'm sad -- I love teaching! Thanks for the lightbulb moment. :)

    Sherlock, with the birthday celebrations happening this weekend, I won't have a lot of time to wallow. This is probably a very good thing for me, LOL.

    Rosidah, thank you for the encouraging words.

    Chelle, thanks for stopping by!

  8. Hootin Anni Says:

    A big Texas "Howdy Do" to you. Just wanted you to know that


  9. Anonymous Says:

    OMG...I didn't even think about that. Okay then...I take back that part of my comment. It is perfect :) How in the hell did I miss that LOL

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