We still have finals week yet to go, but for all intents and purposes, this is it. The last day of class. This year, when I say goodbye to my students, it's really goodbye.
I'm of two minds about retirement, which I suppose is only natural.
First, I've taught biology (and various other subjects) for 32 years, and I am seriously ready to do something different. While I love my subject -- I still get ridiculously excited when I get to teach genetics and evolutionary biology -- there are parts of it that I will not miss. Over three decades, and I still haven't figured out how to make The Parts of the Cell interesting. And while I personally love biochemistry, it doesn't seem to be a Fan Favorite.
And that's putting it mildly.
I also am rather notorious in my school for my antipathy toward Staff Development. I detest bureaucracy, and the increasing motion in New York -- and, I suspect, elsewhere in the United States -- toward micromanagement and a standardized-tests-über-alles approach to education absolutely infuriates me. So I won't miss curriculum mapping and high-stakes exams and administrative b-b stackers who don't have the slightest clue what makes teaching vital and relevant and interesting.
But. I still love the students. The relationships I've formed over the years have meant a great deal to me, and the trust and interest and friendship the students have shown me are something I value more than I can put into words. Also, that "Aha!" moment you see in kids' eyes when something finally makes sense, when suddenly some piece of the universe becomes clear to them -- there's nothing like that in the world.
The room where I spent a significant chunk of the last 27 years
The science department's yearbook photo this year. We were supposed to include in the photo something that was important to us, and "make it memorable." We nailed the latter part, at least.
- The moment in my Critical Thinking class a few years ago, when I was talking about how (or if) we can establish knowledge in the absence of hard evidence. I said, "I want you right now, with what you have right here, to prove to me that pandas exist!" And a student silently reached into her backpack... and pulled out a stuffed panda. After we stopped laughing, I said, "You win this round." At the end of the semester, she gave me the panda, which still sits on my desk.
- Superintendent's Conference Days. This may come as a surprise, given my general hatred of staff development as described above -- but I always know that on conference days, the physics teacher and I get fried chicken from the village grocery store for lunch, and that chicken is damn tasty.
- My first day of teaching in Trumansburg High School, when I was teaching in three different classrooms, and second period accidentally went to the wrong one. I started calling roll, and (of course) no one answered. After three tries of getting someone, anyone, to answer "Here," one of the students said, in a small voice, "I think the kids you're looking for are next door." Thereby establishing myself as slightly daffy, a reputation that still haunts me for some reason.
- The student who asked me, in complete seriousness, if Friday the 13th ever fell on a Sunday.
- The incredibly talented artist who, as part of a senior project focused on human faces, did an amazing portrait of me, which I still cherish.
- Finding out that despite my having moved here 27 years ago knowing no one, I've met two students who are distant cousins of mine.
- All the times students have asked me questions that made me step back and say, "Whoa. I've never thought about that" -- resulting in my learning something along with them.
So this is it. In a few hours, the last bell will ring on my teaching career, and that'll be that. I'm gonna try not to cry, but we'll see how long that determination holds.
This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a little on the dark side; Jared Diamond's riveting book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Starting with societies that sowed the seeds of their own destruction -- such as the Easter Islanders, whose denuding of the landscape led to island-wide ecological collapse -- he focuses the lens on the United States and western Europe, whose rampant resource use, apparent disregard for curbing pollution, and choice of short-term expediency over long-term wisdom seem to be pushing us in the direction of disaster.
It's not a cheerful book, but it's a very necessary one, and is even more pertinent now than when it was written in 2005. Diamond highlights the problems we face, and warns of that threshold we're approaching toward catastrophe -- a threshold that is so subtle that we may well not notice it until it's too late to reverse course.
[If you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]