Lost and Found: A Farewell and Travel Plan

Output Garden Sunlight Door Open Light Beam InputBy Peggy Wuenstel

I’ve been a bit absent from the blog roll recently, but with good reason. I’ve been packing away, paring down and moving on. Even though the focus has been on what comes next: the house is sold, the travel trailer is purchased, and most of our belongings are packed for the upcoming journey, I feel the need to wax nostalgic.

Much of it makes me very happy. The memories experienced, lessons learned, and friendships made can go with me without taking up space anywhere but in my heart. I have had the privilege of working with an extraordinary team of educators over the last fifteen years. They truly put children first and their loving care has paid wonderful dividends for the students we serve.

I have colleagues passionate about growth and improvement for themselves and the programs they administer. I have students who have no concept that there is a limit to how far they can rise. I live in town where education is an important aspect of community life for most residents and they have voted to support local schools when asked to do so.

But the theme of this year’s blogging cycle has been knowing what I’ve got before it’s gone. There are some things that are gone. Some are mourned deeply and some are celebrated with whoops of joy. There are things that I have learned and things I am still struggling to understand.

  • Over the last few weeks I have handled nearly every item I own, sorting those things that will travel the country with us, those that need new homes, and those that will be discarded. I did not feel the “Joy of Tidying Up” that made the bestseller list this year, but I have enjoyed the lightening up. What is gone will not be missed. I have learned that both dreams and possessions are real, worthy of effort, and attainable. One category does not have to be dusted, insured or packed securely for storage.
  • The things I love to do: cook, teach, gift, and plant are all activities designed to provide something to be consumed by others. I won’t be able to do those items in the same way from a travel trailer next year. I’ll survive. I don’t have to host the family gathering or be the co-worker that has supplies at the ready. That part of me is gone.
  • My name will not be on the door anymore. But I have learned that unlike our current president, you don’t get to write your name on your monuments. Someone who comes after you decides that. I would never want a Trump Tower, and establishing my brand has been about being so consistent and recognizable in my love for children and for literacy that I wouldn’t have to label it to have others recognize my work and passion. I understand the need for copyright laws, preserving the intellectual property of others, but have always freely shared those things I have produced for the betterment of our school. I hope my monument be the kids I have had the privilege to teach, who are proud of what they know and who they are.
  • There are things that are gone from the Wisconsin landscape that have made it much easier for me to move on. The value that has historically been ascribed to public education is eroding nationally, but especially in Wisconsin. Respect for teachers, adequate funding for schools and community engagement in bettering the lives of all children in Wisconsin’s classroom has been seriously reduced. Teachers must spend much more time defending themselves from criticism and educating a public unaware of the multitude of roles that schools take on in today’s communities. This pulls time and energy away from where we would like it to be, on our kids and their growth, joy, and self-confidence. It is increasingly hard to project that surety when you are feeling attacked and insecure in your livelihood.
  • We have unfortunately shifted from a focus on the learning to a focus on the testing that drives education today. There are so many better ways to measure progress than single high stakes exam. The easiest tests to administer, score, and publish are often the least effective in describing student learning. They are even less helpful in driving decisions about improving outcomes for individual students, where we should be focused.
  • As a society, we also seem to have lost the sense that the values we teach our children in an elementary school have validity in the adult world. Compromise is good. Everyone deserves to be heard. We only can say we are doing well when all of us are doing well. We need to care about others, even those people who don’t look like us.

After 34 years as an educator I am on a new journey. I am conscious of the things I have lost and am leaving behind. I am also grateful for the things that will never leave me. I read somewhere that retirement is when you stop working on your resume and start working on your eulogy. I’d like to hope that any successes I have had in my teaching career are because I have always concentrated on those “big things” first. Learn all you can, then share what you know, care about people first, things second. The things you give away say more about you than the things you keep. You should listen, learn, and wonder more every day than you speak, teach or think you know. Love what you do and the people you do it with. Be grateful, be quiet, and know when it’s time to turn off the lights and close the door.

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