Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Last Day of Teaching - Ever!

Well, never say never. But I've officially retired from KCI, at any rate, where I spent part of my grade 13 year as a student back in '85, then was a student-teacher there just five years later, and then spent 31 years teaching (minus a few maternity leaves). I was invited to the retirement luncheon today, but there was potentially 80-120 people in the library, one of the only air conditioned rooms in the school, with no windows opened, and almost no masks in sight. I can't imagine walking into a room that full of people unmasked right now! Luckily, I could watch it through a google meet. 

My poor friend who drew the short straw and had to give a speech about me hates speaking in front of people, so I offered to make her a video to play instead - she could just get up and push start, and then sit down. That video didn't make the cut, possibly because she was fine with giving a speech after all, or possibly because it's a bit of a bummer near the end and has some swears in it! I wanted a warts and all remembrance! A friend of mine said, "You had to know it couldn't be shown," and I really don't know. Maybe it's just as well that I'm leaving; I could never understanding those kinds of rules. I'd hate for it to go to waste, so I'm glad I can post it here! 

The retrospective is in a link rather than embedded because the music wouldn't get past the copyright police on YouTube, and it's too big a file to upload directly into a blog. I included student comments that I collected since my first year from a last day of class exercise I do with my grade 12s. When they come in the room on their very last day of high school, there are colourful pages of 8.5 x 14 paper taped around the room each with a name on it - the students and me. I tell them,  

"I've been giving feedback all year; now it's your turn. This is your opportunity to say anything to anyone in the room, but it has to be kind, specific, and you have to write on every page. Anonymous is fine! You're free to draw, and it doesn't have to be PG, but know your audience! This might be the very last chance to say that one thing you've always wanted to say to that person who inspired you or provoked desire in you!" 

I put out markers and put on music, and they go around making comments, sometimes funny and sometimes profound or shockingly sincere. At the end, they get to take their page home as a keepsake of the class. Before I started posting online marks, I used to have their marks detailed on the back of each page, too. I've saved all of my comments from them for those bad days when you forget you're a good teacher. A few of my favourites are interspersed with stuff I did here (about 4 min.): Snyder's Teaching Career.  

Here's an audio recording of the speech, too (about 6 min., starts after 11 seconds). The best part of the speech needed to be seen, unfortunately. Last week the speechwriter and I sat on my porch for a good hour or so, where I regaled her with many stories of some of my former teacher friends and I being less than appropriate, particularly on the day before Christmas and the last day of school. At the end of her speech, she announced that she was inspired by me, and CRACKED A PINT to chug, in the library, during a meeting, in front of one of the most tight-ass admin teams I've ever had! Ballsy lady!! In fact, nobody in this admin team has ever had a beer with me, and I think that's one of very few in the past three decades. The previous admin had yearly parties. Even earlier, a principal tagged along on a field trip once and was first to order a beer during lunch so we'd be more comfortable ordering booze ON A FIELD TRIP. Those were different times! 

In the last few year, a colleague would give a touching speech about people on their way out, but none of the retirees were given time to say anything themselves. Nobody told me that giving a speech was a possibility this time. (Or, perhaps, nobody wanted me to find out!) When the other teacher retiring this year spoke, I felt a bit ripped off. I love a captive audience! I love talking in front of people, like in class, when the confusing back and forth of a casual conversation is regulated with raised hands and order. It's pretty much the only way I can have a conversation if there are more than two people in the room. 

Here's what I would have said,  (or watch me say it here - about 5 min.)

Thank you for the kind words. From my first student teaching experience, I've known that teaching was my thing. On my very first day taking over Phil Allt's class, I prepped a lesson that should have lasted 75 minutes but took only 10, and then I just winged it until I ran out the clock! And we had so much fun!! I learned to trust that I have lots of knowledge to draw from, and there will never be an end to discussions applying so many different perspectives to so many different current issues. It's not possible to run out of ideas to raise. And I became addicted to that lightbulb moment when we can see the gears turning and suddenly they get it. I challenge my kids a little harder than they'd like, making them actually read short pieces from Plato and Hume and Nietzsche, and read slowly, paying attention to every single word, and they sweat over it, positive they'll never understand this gibberish, until one day it starts to make sense. And now they can read more challenging works all by themselves! That is the best feeling!  

And I met some of my favourite people here, colleagues willing to hold me up as I stumbled on the dance floor at golf day. People who are so understanding and patient when their question or comment is met with my stunned silence -- I'm thinking! (Autism, much?) And I know so many people not by what subject they teach, but by whether they watch Succession or Barry or Better Call Saul or Fleabag. I can barely remember anyone's name, but I know who to look out for the day after the new season drops. And then there's all those many many students who enlightened me with their brilliance, who shared new perspectives to explore and funny stories to illustrate our conversations and vulnerable heartfelt moments, so often interrupted by a random phone call or PA announcement. 

So how do you know when it's time to leave all that behind? I was planning on staying at least three more years, but this year felt different to me. It felt like the last one. I'm usually a bit teary at the end of each year. Maybe it'll hit me later, but I thought I'd be absolutely distraught today, and I'm mainly elated! Giddy, even! As teachers we have to get used to being ready to lay down our lives for our students each semester and then they just get up and leave us at the end of it all. Over and over and over again. At the beginning of every semester there's a moment when I think to myself, "This group isn't nearly as good as last year's group," and then, by the end, they are, and I get all welled up as I say goodbye on the last day. This year, we never really gelled. Something that helped me enjoy my job for so long, is that I'm usually amused by teenager shenanigans; I love when they take the piss out of me, and I love when they argue with me. But I completely lost my tolerance for games and unfocused debate as I tried to keep us all safe. I wasn't delighting in them the way I normally do - the way I think we should if we're worth our salt. It's vital that we find ways to adore them all, even that kid, the one that pushes all your buttons. They're just looking for the boundaries, looking for the edges and seeing if you'll pull them back at the last minute or let them fall. Being a mum changed me as a teacher because then you're reminded that each one of them is somebody's little bunny. 

I'm also leaving because so many more kids and parents now rebel against challenges voraciously, expecting marks in the 90s to come with little effort and yelling threats if they don't. When I look at old final exams from early in my career, the ones neatly typed up by the office staff and corrected with liquid paper, I'm amazed by the level of questioning and amount of knowledge and skill required back in the day. I'm guilty of making my courses easier and easier each year to ensure continued enrolment, but, with covid, I dropped a good 20% of the curriculum for each course, and I'm not sure how to get it back, how to make the next year harder to actually get through the content and skills! At this point some are just control-F-ing their way through notes I provide and not necessarily learning anything. So I've left that for someone else to figure out, or to just leave it as is. 

But most exhausting this year was trying to keep the kids safe from the questionable choices they might make for themselves, like not wearing a mask inside a public building like this after all precautions were removed despite an ongoing pandemic! Some say I have firm values and strong opinions, and others call that being a bitch. But do know that I mean well, if that counts for anything. I really do hope you all stay safe and keep delighting in these little monkeys. The lessons we teach them shape our society. It's an important job.  

At our school, when someone retires, we each write on a card that goes in a lovely box that the retiree gets as a keepsake, not too dissimilar from my grade 12 send off. About half of the cards said something to the effect of "Have a great retirement" - many from newer teachers that I couldn't pick out of a lineup. But the other half were lovely, recounting many memories from my time in the building. This one's my favourite: 

It's nice to know that somebody got that I was trying to make things a little better for everybody, even though I was largely unsuccessful, constantly fighting an uphill battle until it all got too overwhelming and I tucked my tail between my legs and went home. I managed to keep our school open, though, after everybody said closing it was a done deal, so that's something. I hope there are others willing to speak up and out when things aren't right in this world. It won't get any better if we don't keep pushing things in the right direction. It could get a whole lot worse.  


Lorne said...

Your post is a testament to a career very well-conducted. Congratulations, Marie.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Lorne!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! You are at the start of many new adventures!

Marie Snyder said...


Matt Morris said...

As an old retiring teacher once said “KCI is staffed by a cast of characters”. Marie, you are one of those characters. And you added such a unique and important voice to the community. Best wishes.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Matt!

Anonymous said...

My wish is to have known you even more. I share many of your frustrations and struggle to find how to push the best way forward for our kids… wanting to raise the bar instead of lowering the bar. You have always inspired me and my hope is you find your peace, meaning, challenge and enjoyment during your next phase. Arden

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Arden. One unforeseen loss that came with a common lunch is staff retreated to departments instead of the staff room for lunch, and we stopped getting to know everyone in the building. When lunches were spread over the day each semester, you'd get to know a new crew on lunch and prep. We also didn't have coffee makers and bar fridges in separate offices - just the staff room, which made it a crowded but friendly place. It's a shame. I would have liked to get to know you more as well.

Lisa Skinner said...

Hi Marie! I really enjoyed watching your videos and hearing Melinda give your retirement speech. I know you will continue writing, reading and learning over the next few decades. I always appreciated the role you played in the history department. I have admired your intelligence and insight on so many issues. Wishing you the very best! Keep in touch. Lisa

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Lisa!