Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Guest Blog - Spring Break, Revisited

Welcome Terry Crawford Palardy as our guest blogger

Spring Break, Revisted

On a true spring day,
Temperatures in the fifties
Sun behind a thin veil of clouds
I am remembering…

It is spring break week for colleges, but not for public schools. It has been a full year since I’d last sat on the porch each morning of this blessed week with a pot of tea, there to scribble restful thoughts into my notebook.
I had taken the week off to recuperate from a growing sense of malaise, fatigue, confusion and sadness. My career would be ending soon, sooner than I’d planned. I decided to consider it a vacation week, like the college students had. I found it a precious time of year, with the worst of winter behind us, and the true beginnings of new life just ahead. I wished in that week that every teacher could experience a true spring break.

Some mornings I would simply watch the weather, listen to the birdsong, and sniff the fresh moist scent of buds breaking through recently thawed earth. Other times I would write at a frenzied pace as life itself happened: the chickadees’ and nuthatches’ noisy quarrel with the squirrel, contrasting with the mourning doves’ quiet, fluttering arrival to forage beneath the feeder, and the chipmunk’s incessant chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp from the front doorstep, where he sat on top of the garden statue of a bunny, his short tail looking like an anchor tucked between the sun-warmed ears of the statue. The creatures in view were ever changing, never still. The sparrows would arrive en masse, taking over the feeder, leaving the larger but timid cardinal hiding deep within the branches of the pines nearby. I would scribe their chatter, and describe their behaviors, but try as I might, I could never quite capture their natural beauty with my words. One week of spring vacation could never be long enough.

Afternoons of that special week were dedicated first to a restorative nap, and then a valiant attempt at spring cleaning, of winter wardrobe weeding and donation deliveries, and sorting through the stacks of unattended miscellaneous mail, always set aside during the school year, less important than the bills and such, and always requiring at least a glance before being cast away. If weather allowed, and energy sufficed, an outdoor patrol with garden gloves to pull last fall’s debris off the little spring shoots and a camera to capture those blossoms that did arrive before week’s end. Washing the windows was anticipated, but not accomplished during
that very short week.

Evenings during my spring ‘vacation week’ found me back indoors, feet up, school bag at my side and piles of student work spread about nearby awaiting grades to fit the comments already written. My notebook lay neglected then, as work bled into the home scene consistently. Many evenings I wished I might have the student beside me as a page was being reviewed; to point out a difficult passage, and make a suggested change with immediate feedback and response … how much we could accomplish together, one to one … but with one hundred students and only me, that could never happen. No chance to praise and take delight in work well done and little time to coach and encourage the one who had shown little understanding of the task. The comments I wrote always said so much more than the isolated letter grade at the top of the page, but the grade alone would hold the student’s attention and the comments were often all for naught. So many hours invested outside the schoolroom, far removed from the intended target of those instructional notes. My labor of love would be put away quickly as the student went off to the next class, another subject, and a different teacher with different papers to return, grades and all.

I tried to continue through the rest of that spring to summer, to finish that last year of school on my feet, with pride. But I was humbled by the increasing forgetfulness, and sadness, and fears and tears. Rising each morning became more difficult. A permanent substitute was in my place now, and while I was welcome to stop in and guide her through the curriculum and materials, I was unable to fill even that role. I spent more and more hours asleep each day, and in my dreams visited my classroom, only to find it was no longer mine. I dreamt of being lost, I dreamt of being misplaced in time and place, and I dreamt of being no longer needed. In my dreams I became a different person, a stranger even to myself… after thirty years of being a teacher, I became an unknown.

It has been a year since that wonderful week followed by that difficult end of my career. I used some of that time to visit doctors, to try new medications, to rest, to take walks during the daylight rather than at the weary end of a workday. I learned how to reduce our expenses to fit our pension. I leaned what I needed to know about our new health insurance that accompanied my retirement. I learned how to let go of the responsibility I felt each year for one hundred new students. I learned not to fear letting their parents down, or letting students down, and letting myself down. I learned that I did not have to remember every family situation and health issue and learning style of those hundred new students each year. I learned that it was alright to be finished. I learned that there is life beyond the classroom, beyond a career.

But I do miss them, all of them. I miss the students’ smiles in the morning, their pride in their work, their delight in understanding something that they were learning. I miss my colleagues, my partners, my friends, and our meetings together where we discussed all of our students and their lives and their learning. I missed, for a short while, the regularity of a schedule, and learned that without that external structure I could find my own within. And I know that the balance has
shifted, and the time taken from my family for my students is now free for me to spend with those I love at home. I am beginning to know who I am now, this different me. And I am happy. And my spring break is now long enough, and need never end.

Terry's links:
Facebook: Terry Crawford Palardy, and Terry's Thoughts and Threads, and Multiple Sclerosis, an Enigma
Twitter: @thoughtsthreads


  1. Lovely...I so enjoyed your blog today!

  2. Hi Lorie,
    Thanks! I am enjoying this very different, unpredictable not quite Spring-time this year. I pop into school now and then to share lunch time with my friends, and they tell me I look so much better this year. Retirement does that for people, every one!
    Come and visit me at my blog?

  3. It's hard to give up long ingrained habits. I find myself dreaming about work sometimes, and when I wake up I remember I don't have to go there any more.

    I love your descriptions of the birds and other happenings in your yard.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. Thanks, Morgan. I used to write pages and pages of observations of nature's happenings when I sat out on the porch. Looking forward to this, a happier, more settled spring to enjoy!