Something I Shared at my Retirement Party

I read this last week at a retirement party for me and another colleague. I based it on George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From.” Mine lacks form or pattern, and it’s filled with inside references, but it’s one of the three things I’ve written in the last two months, so here it is.

I went to a retirement party once, and the person who retired set a record for the longest retirement reflection ever.  She’s here today, incidentally.  And I’m a fairly competitive person, so I really didn’t feel like I could just ignore that record.  I needed to beat it.  So, I’ve prepared a few words that try to capture the 36 years or 6480 days, or 45,360 hours (give or take a few, if you count wrap-around time, whatever that is).

[Pulls out one of those 3-inch binders you get at an all-day workshop]

No, but seriously, I really appreciate all of you being here.  I know that you have better things to be doing this afternoon than engaging in end-of-year superspreader activities.  So, while I have a million things to say and a million people to thank, I have decided that if you want to hear my reflections on these past three and a half decades, you’ll have to join Dawn, and Jess and my wife and the two other people who read my blog.  It’s not crowded there.  Plenty of social distancing. 

Instead of that, I’ve decided to try the kind of writing that is the hardest for me to pull off…that would be  brief writing.  Dawn has always tried to encourage me to write something short enough that she can finish it before her coffee gets cold. I never succeed.

Here’s a  poem…sort of, that tries to capture what these years have been like for me.  It’s called “Where I’m From.”  I stole the title and the basic idea.  If any of the references are obscure…or if all of the references are obscure, you can Google them later.  After I wrote this, I realized that it really didn’t explain anything.  It was essentially a poem that proved I was really old…something that probably didn’t need to be proven at all.  It’s called…

Where I’m From…School-wise and Otherwise

I’m from chalk boards and real chalk.  
Overhead projectors and transparencies
report cards filled out by hand...on carbon paper.  Look it up.

I’m from floppy discs and an Apple 2GS.
I’m from Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego.
I’m from CD drives and VCRs on carts.
I’m from CEUs, PPTs, CMTs and F&Ps 

I’m from pocket calendars and phone messages taped to your mailbox by the school secretary
Yup, cuz we didn’t have phones in our room or terrifying blinking red message lights. 
(Yes, phones had been invented.)

I’m from when parents encouraged their kids to watch The Cosby Show,
When Michael Jackson sang “We Are the World.”
When Ronald Reagan was president.
I’m from when Donald Trump was just a real estate and casino guy.

I’m from Garbage Pail Kids and Silly Bands
Tech Decks, Neo Pets, and Slap Bracelets
I’m from when TV and MTV were the things that rotted kids’ brains
And fortnight was just a period of time.

I’m from a K-to-8 school where a cafeteria worker mistook me for an eighth grader. 
From field trips to Nature’s Classroom, the Wadsworth Atheneum,
and the Liberty Science Center
I’m from self-guided walking tours of Chinatown with 4th graders.  
Yup we did that.

I’m from the Challenger disaster in my first year,
Holly Finley in my 7th 
9-11 in my 16th, 
and Sandy Hook in my 27th.
Each one hit too close to home..

I’m from when Shrek was a book that I read to my class
From reading a “new” book about a kid with a wand, broom, and a lightning bolt scar and saying, “I think this might make a good movie.”

I’m from Whole Language vs Phonics
From no textbooks in math but textbooks in science
From resource teachers for every subject 
and a starting salary of 19 grand...the best in CT at that time.

I’m from Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, Marilyn Burns, and Katie Wood Ray.
I’m from Saturdays at Teacher’s College and presentations at NCTE.
I’m from three Westport schools, seven superintendents, and only five principals, 
I’m from a community of teachers learning.

I’m from a mentor who whispered when she wanted to be heard.
I’m from an art teacher who taught me to sketch so I could notice.
I’m from shelves full of journals filled with those "noticings."

I’m from a group who called themselves the Diners Club
And another group of Slicers
I’m from 30 different teammates and one who was next door for 19 years.
I’m from a fellow teacher who’s twenty years younger, but manages to teach me something new almost every day.

I’m from a wife who sometimes felt like a teacher widow.
Who weathered my Back to School Night stress reactions every September,
And two or three report card seasons a year,
And 36 years of sleepless Sunday nights,
Who read every letter or speech I wrote...except this one.
I’m from a wife who insisted that our family have dinner together every night

I’m from a wise child who made patient suggestions when every year I realized on October 30th that I didn't have my Halloween costume ready.
Who fed me slideshow music every June.
Who showed me what bravery looks like in a child and a young adult.
I’m from a wise child who will now point out that this has turned into a very long poem. 

Okay, got it,  I’m getting there.

I’m from a generous staff who rescued me when my wife was on bed rest,
From friends who held me together when my life fell apart,
From friends who walked our family out of the darkness.

I’m from a mom and dad who taught me that public service is noble and satisfying.
I’m also from the parents who sent great kids to my classroom year after year.
And I’m from those kids who made me laugh, made me pause, made my jaw drop, or just made my day.

That’s where I’m from...and as usual, I have no idea where I’m heading. 

6 thoughts on “Something I Shared at my Retirement Party

  1. 💟

    On Sun, Jun 20, 2021 at 10:13 AM FiveHundredaDay wrote:

    > humbleswede posted: ” I read this last week at a retirement party for me > and another colleague. I based it on George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m > From.” Mine lacks form or pattern, and it’s filled with inside references, > but it’s one of the three things I’ve written in the l” >


  2. I love this poem and this structure. It allows you to say so much in so few words (When you think about it, you covered quite a few years in just a few lines!) I recently worked with fifth graders using this structure and, as usual, they blew me away. Reading your poem made me sigh, gasp, laugh, and cry. It’s a beautiful tribute to all that you are – as a person, a teacher, a husband, a father, a human being on this Earth. I wish you well as you travel into the unknown. I often wish we had worked together. I hope I continue to spend time with you on your blog. Be well, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant! You really did take me back in time – some roads we traveled together! Those report cards filled out on carbon paper — my hand would ache from pressing down so hard! Then, trying to squeeze comments into that little box! So glad you posted it as I definitely missed parts when it was read! Here’s to you, Peter — keep the blog posts comin’!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad I got to hear you read this live. So glad I got to work with you and learn with you. You were always in my head when planning pd. “What will Peter think of this?” It’s been such a joy to see all of the people who have stepped out to celebrate you. I wish you all the best in retirement. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you…and right back atcha. I have learned so much from you and admire your amazing ability to be an expert at every grade level. When I spoke to the board I tried to explain how important it is that Westport nurtures its new teachers. I was talking about my start, but I think it was clear that it’s just as vital now that we have people like you in your role.


      1. Thank you. That means a lot. I was also so fortunate to be surrounded and supported by so many amazing people when I first started teaching. The thing that struck me then, and I continue to notice now, was that those really amazing people never stopped learning and growing.

        Liked by 1 person

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