My Bag


On the last day of school, when the last child runs out of her classroom, a teacher puts her school bag on her naked desk top and surveys her quiet classroom and its overflowing trash bags and naked bulletin boards. Hearing a buzzing by the open window, she smiles as she remembers the screams of Bee! Bee! when her students were in residence. It’s quiet now as she waits for her principal to come in and sign off on her “Closing Classroom To-Do List,”

As the teacher turns her head, she can hear the cricks in her neck. She knows those cricks are from carrying her heavy school bag on her left shoulder every day from home to school. She’s been carrying this particular bag for twenty years—she’s tripped over it, lost it, found it, and caressed it on her lap on crowded subways.

Like a good teacher, a teacher’s school bag must be flexible. It must be able to mold and stretch to accommodate many sizes and shapes. Teachers don’t just carry student papers, grade books and red pens. They haul lesson materials from their kitchens, bathrooms, supermarkets  and backyards. I’m also sure that teachers have filled their school bags with warm clothing (jackets, sweaters, mittens, and hats)  for their cold kids.

At one time or another, depending on where I was in my career, my bag has held:

  • Worms
  • Boiled chicken bones
  • Pounds of poetry books. (Never did get back the one written by Tupac Shakur. Had to pay my local library for that one.)
  • Heavy sets of glorious picture books about Genghis Khan, The Civil War, and Endangered Animals
  • Colanders, strainers, metal pie plates, mixing bowls, and cupcake pans.
  • Crime scene materials
  • Rocks
  • Hundreds of empty black film canisters…can’t even find one now.

On this last day of school, our teacher’s bag is packed with stuff that she will explore for next year’s class. She wasn’t very orderly about packing it up; just threw stuff in so it would be there when she was ready for it.

She’s drained from the heat and the task of keeping her kids reasonably safe and sane during the chaos of the June clean-up, but she knows her colleagues want to go out and celebrate. So, because she’s a good sport, she’ll join them.

When she gets home she’ll put her teacher bag in her closet, she will unwind, and she will move on with her life.

If you are a teacher, what will you do with your school bag? Will you throw it in a closet and forget about it until August or maybe even the night before school starts? Will you empty it right away and fill it with vacation regalia?

If you’re retiring, will you caress your empty bag, now an artifact of the good work you did?


Retired from Teaching? Yes and No


I stole this chalk from my elementary school  on the day I retired from teaching. That was in August of 2000.  At this time of year I like to hold my chalk, and remember.

I retired from 30 years of  teaching elementary school in August 2000.  By  October,  I was working again, part time, in elementary, middle and high schools as a literacy consultant.  I’m still doing that.

Consulting is like teaching, but without the lunch duty, hall duty, attendance taking and money collection.

Consulting teachers can get away with stuff that regular teachers can’t. Sometimes, for my own self-preservation, I put on my “old grandma hat. ” I can say to a potty mouth student, “If I were your grandma, I would wash out your mouth with soap.”

The kids laugh, and then they behave. They say, “Yes, Miss. Sorry, Miss.”

All teachers have golden academic moments with their students.  The real art of good teaching is to take those  serendipitous  moments and make them happen routinely. That’s happening. It will take time, but it’s happening.

Kids are kids.  Kindergarteners and high schoolers have the same needs.  All kids can think. I have learned that often the kids with the worst grades can think at a higher level than the rest of the gang. They just haven’t learned how to apply their high levels of thinking to school. Maybe it’s the fault of the school.  That’s why change is in the air. That’s good.

All teachers have moments of great poignancy  with their students.  Probably those are the moments that students and teachers will remember most. Many of my fourth (or was it fifth?) grade students remember how I cried when I read Bridge to Terabithia to them.

All teachers have moments of great comedy with students. The art of good teaching is to take those comedic moments and enjoy the humor. Even in semi-retirement now, as I  work with a new generation of teachers, the moments continue. The story below happened in one of my high schools last year.

A first year biology teacher was doing an experiment on enzymes.  I met with him before the lesson and suggested he probe the students’ background knowledge to set the stage for the lesson. Recalling  my days as an elementary school teacher, I suggested he  “Ask the kids what they know about yeast.” I knew many teachers in elementary school had baked bread with kids at one time or another.

The lesson began and my eager protégé, asked his high school students, “So tell me what you already know about yeast.”

Instantly, the one student who always calls out, described, in graphic detail, yeast infections and where they are found. Using the feline word for female genitalia, he was indeed proud of his contribution.

I clearly remember the “deer in the head light” look of my young teacher as the class gasped and laughed.  Up until this moment, Mr. C. had trusted me.

Stepping in, I said to the eager student, “Thank you for your contribution. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I may have an extra sip of wine as I share this story with my husband. Let’s try to use more academic language in the future, and now let’s move on.” The teacher continued with his wonderful lesson, and  the class moved on.

So newly retired teachers, as you move on, take time to savor your remembrances . Also, you might want to also steal a piece of chalk…if you can find one.  It may be a valuable artifact someday.