Up until about three months ago, I was prepared to teach until they carried me out feet first. Then, out of the blue, retirement became possible and I decided it was time to hang up the chalk.
Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. It’s given me so many rewards over the past 25 years. At times, I learned more from the students than I was able to teach them.
I remember how scared I was when I got my first classroom. The first week was like a blur, but I made it. I was so excited on that Friday that I raced home to celebrate – only to get a call from a principal asking me if I wanted to work for free. It seems I forgot my first paycheck at the school.
I kept a journal that year, something I have recommended to new teachers over the years. My first entries were positive, but by October I was beginning to wonder what I got myself into and thinking of ways how I could get back out.
I managed to make it to Christmas break, so that gave me time to revise and revamp what I was doing. I must have found something inside of me to continue because I stayed at it for two and half decades, although I never would have made it without the people I worked with.
It was strange coming back to my old high school. Some of my former teachers were now colleagues, but I had a hard time calling them by their first names. With time, some former students became colleagues and they still call me Mr. Bundy. I completely understand why.
I have had the privilege of watching hundreds of young people blossom and go on to succeed. I can’t remember most of their names, but they remember me. I am constantly running in to DuBois High grads who have become mechanics, plumbers, doctors, nurses, police officers, teachers, carpenters, truck drivers – you name it. One former student is a videographer for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Several others have made their marks on TV.
As a veteran, I am proud to see so many of our students serve in the military. I have a flag in my office that flew in Iraq, a gift from a former student who served there. Two other students once met up on an Air Force cargo plane piloted by another DuBois High alum. Pictures of academy graduates hang on our wall across from the main office.
The bottom line is simple – most of our students succeed.
As I traveled around the state to attend or teach at conferences, I was delighted to find that the DuBois Area School District was well known and respected. We have a reputation for excellence in sports, academics, and the arts.
I’ll admit, it will be hard to leave all of this behind, but there comes a time when new blood needs to take over with fresh ideas. Let’s face it – I was born in the middle of the last century. I knew a time before calculators, computers, DVDs, microwave ovens and the Internet. The phone I grew up with was attached to the wall, not in my pocket.
The teaching profession itself has changed. There is more bureaucracy, more reliance on test scores, and a host unfunded mandates. Teachers are expected to do more with less, usually dipping into their own money for classroom supplies. I wish I would have kept track of how many fundraiser items I purchased to help school organizations stay afloat while funding for education kept getting cut.
Teachers are also supposed to be on the lookout for bullying, drug abuse, child abuse, and sex abuse as the problems in our society manifest themselves in the classroom. Very soon, they might also be carrying guns.
But even with all of this – and more – I’m leaving a district filled with dedicated professionals willing to go the extra mile for their students, and I would encourage any young person who loves kids to join them.
That’s what my professional life has been about, really, for the past 25 years – my students and my colleagues. I will find something else to do, I’m sure, but I know in my heart I will always be a teacher.