Retired English Teacher Is Going To Work

Once the Christmas decorations were down and put away, I looked at the winter months spreading before me and wondered just how I would get through those long days when my hubby was off to work.  Oh, I had plenty to do.  The desk is covered with family papers, old letters,  and photos needing to be sorted, filed, and archived.  I promised myself I would get that done after the first of the year.

I'd begun going through closets and cupboards sorting and tossing while I put away Christmas, but I still had much more of that type of sorting and tossing to do.  

Books are stacked waiting to be read during the winter months.  

Writing a personal history was also on my to do list.

I had my ladies groups at church to look forward to.  And, there is my writing group that needs to get going again.  All of that would also take up much of my time.  Not to mention that I could always go to lunch with my girlfriends.  Yes, I had all of that going on, and I so enjoy these activities.

I'd started a workout plan on our new elliptical machine.  I hoped to make sure I also got the club to do water aerobics at least twice a week.  There were Zumba classes being offered, and those low impact aerobics class also.

I promised myself that I would start cooking more at home and planning healthier meals.  I have been pretty consistent in doing that since the beginning of December.  

Yes, I had plenty to do while Jim was working.

Yet, I could not shake the desire to go back to work, so there was this job, and I applied for it.  As I told one of my girlfriends, I hate filling out the application process on-line, so one day, I sat myself down and completed the process anyway, partly as a practice of discipline.  

I had another year and a half left on a teaching license that I had renewed and never used since I had renewed it.  It took some doing just to renew that license on-line.  I'd had to reconstruct all the professional development I had done, prove I had done it, and submit all the papers to get the renewal.  It seemed so much easier when we just found our papers and submitted them to the Colorado Department of Education.  Now, it all had to be done electronically.  My husband, and many of my friends thought I was crazy for doing it.  "Why do you want to renew again?"  In my heart, I just wasn't ready to let that hard won certificate expire, so I renewed it.  After all of that, I had never used the renewed certificate to teach again.

Mostly, I have just been missing working in the profession I loved so much.  I missed the mental and intellectual challenge that teaching brings.  I missed the contact with students.  I missed working with other teachers. I wanted and needed the feeling that my days had a purpose that met the passion I have always had for teaching.

A phone call came.  An interview was granted.  I was greatly impressed by the principals I met.  I loved the school.  I was excited about the possibilities.  The next day, a job was offered.  I took it.

Today, I signed a contract to teach again.  I will begin my new job on January 24.  I will be teaching ELL (English Language Learners, or English as A Second Language.  I will go between three elementary schools and one middle school in School District 11.  I am quite happy about it all.  

Tonight we went to dinner to celebrate that I had signed a contract to teach through the end of the school year.  As Jim signed the check, I mentioned to the waiter that we had just eaten a celebratory dinner.  Soon, very unexpectedly, the waiter reappeared with a dessert to help me celebrate my new adventure.  He said,  
"Thank you for being a teacher."  

After I signed my paperwork today, I was quite humbled to think that I can again become a part of a profession that has given me so much more than I ever gave it.  I'm grateful to have the health and the desire to go back and work with young people again.  I'm looking forward to mentoring and working with the aides whom work with the ELL population in the schools where I will be working.  

Many years ago, a fellow worker in the school where I worked said to me, "I could never give up working as an elementary school secretary, because I'm hooked on the smiles I get each day."  I understand that.  I love seeing the light come on and the excitement that a child expresses when he or she finally understands and can speak a language that is new to them.  I can't wait to get back to working with my dear ELL students.  

Retired English Teacher Teaches A Family Member English As A Second Language

Family Ties ~ The French Connection

At least 30 summers ago, there was a Fourth of July French family reunion and picnic at the home of one of my cousins.  A favorite cousin, one I had not seen in many years, was there with her three beautiful young daughters.

The day was a hot one.  For some reason, I asked the girls if they wanted me to put their hair up in French braids.  One by one, each sat on the floor before me as I brushed and braided each one's hair.  That is when I first got to know and to love my first cousin once removed named Annie French.  I think she was about eight years old at the time.

Unfortunately, I didn't see a lot of my cousin and her daughters while the girls were growing up.  The next time I spent any time at all with them was twelve years ago when we gathered in Cousin Mary's hospital room just before she passed away from ovarian cancer which was discovered very shortly before her death.  The girls were still so sweet, so beautiful, and so very young to lose their wonderful mother.  They were barely out of their teens and into their twenties.  My heart broke for them.

I knew Mary had given them a wonderful foundation. She, a single mom, had raised them to be strong, independent, yet loving, and caring young women. She also raised them to be strong in the faith that she had taught them.

Annie, the one I call Mary's mini me, always wears a glorious, winning smile just like her sweet mama did.  After her mother's death, Annie went on to graduate from college and to travel around the world as a single woman.  Most of her trips were mission trips.  She journeyed to Peru to take some seminary classes from a branch of the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Peru.  There, she met her future husband.

Thanks to Facebook, I have been able to follow her journey from afar.  I saw the photos of the beautiful bride that Annie was when she married her handsome smiling groom, a native of Peru, in Peru.  I read of their missionary work in Peru and in Costa Rica.  I was thrilled to see photos of the beautiful daughters they soon had.  I admired Annie's handiwork of sewing that she did for her husband, her home, and her daughters.  I was impressed by Darwin's work in the the ministry.

Perhaps, our lives would never have intersected again except at family gatherings when the Torres family might be stateside if Darwin and Annie had not come to the United States late this spring for an extended sabbatical.  Their plans were that they would return to Peru to plant a church in Cusco, Peru.  They were being sent out to do this work by Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel in Colorado Springs.  They hoped that during the time the family was stateside, Darwin would also be able to take the test to become a U.S. Citizen.

A Springtime Meeting ~ An Answer to Prayer

In mid-April of this year, I wrote in my journal, "I am feeling stuck in a holding pattern of clouds and rain and storms...As I look out the window, I see patches of blue, lots of patches of blue as the clouds dissipate.  I got stuck in a storm pattern before the storm even materialized.  Our feelings really have next to nothing to do with reality."  I went on to write that I would be happier if I dug deeper into what made me happy and got unstuck from my holding pattern.  I prayed for opportunities to do more of what I love best: working with people and teaching.

Later, that very day, I got a message from Annie on Facebook.  Not knowing my professional background, she asked if I knew anyone who could teach her husband English so he could pass his citizenship test!  

Just prior to returning the the United States from Peru earlier in the spring, Annie had been working with Darwin so he could take the test for citizenship while they were in the States.  At home in Peru and in Costa Rica, the girls were learning English and were bilingual in Spanish and English.  Annie and Darwin communicated only in Spanish, and the girls spoke Spanish to their father.  This meant that Darwin's English was quite limited.  When he first took the test, he did not pass.  They hoped he could take it again soon, gain his citizenship, and they could return to Peru to begin their new ministry.

When Darwin did not pass the test the first time, Annie asked her aunt, my first cousin, if she knew  of someone whom might be able to help Darwin with English.  My cousin said, "Ask Sally.  She taught English.  She might know someone who knows how to teach ESL."  

I was beyond excited when Annie contacted me.  I told her I would be thrilled to help Darwin.  I told her of my background and even told her I had been praying for an opportunity to teach again.  We scheduled a time to meet at my home.  I dug out all of my old books and got ready to get to work doing what I love to do: teach English to speakers of other languages.  

I was a bit daunted by the task.  We didn't have much time.  Where should I start?  

At our first meeting, seated around my kitchen table that was covered with books on grammar, picture dictionaries, and other resources, I did an assessment to determine Darwin's understanding of and use of English.  Once that was complete,  we set our goals and objectives for the times we would meet.  Annie was my translator when Darwin and I could not connect.  I told them that the first goal would be that they would no longer speak in Spanish at home, but would use English.  I knew that we didn't have much time, so I wanted Darwin to use English for speaking and listening as much as possible.  I also suggested he start reading English storybooks to the girls at bedtime.

From there, we took off.  Darwin was such a gifted and willing student.  It was such a joy to work with him.  Along the way, we got to know each other and were able to share a bit more about our lives and about the faith we shared in common.  My heart became quite knitted together with the beautiful hearts that live in Darwin and Annie.  Darwin has a gift for language.  He is a bright and able student.  He worked so hard on learning English.  He expanded his opportunities to listen to English by going on a retreat with other men from his church.  He began going to Bible Studies taught in English.  He sought opportunities to have conversational English times with other men in his church.  

The French Connection ~ A New American Citizen

On June 20th, Darwin took the U.S. Citizenship test for the second time.  This time, he passed with flying colors.  Many prayers were answered.  He was not nervous during the testing.  He remembered what he had learned when the questions were asked.  He especially remembered the conversations and times we had when we went over "Who" "What" "Where" "When" and "Why" questions.  Those type questions can be so hard for second language learners.

Last night, on July 5th, Jim and I were able to have Annie and Darwin and the girls in our home for a celebratory dinner.  We grilled hamburgers.  I made potato salad.  We even had that American dish of apple pie topped with ice cream for dessert.  

My profession which has given me so many wonderful experiences over the years just keeps on giving back to me.  I am so grateful I was able to work with Darwin.  I am blessed beyond measure to   have taught immigrant children, young adults from other lands studying English as a foreign language, and adult learning English for various purposes.  To have the opportunity to work with Darwin in his journey towards citizenship will be one of my great joys.  I loved getting to know this wonderful young man of God.  I am excited about following his journey as he goes to Peru to plant a church.  I have been so richly blessed because our lives have intersected at this point in time.  I needed this experience of teaching him and learning from him and from Annie more than they will ever know.  Now our hearts are forever knitted together.  

Darwin and Sally photographed in our classroom setting: the kitchen table.

After my father retired, he spent much time working on family genealogies and gathering photos and stories about the French family history in the United States.  My paternal family history in the United States, the history that Annie and I share,  goes back to 1676 when our ancestor first came to these North American shores 

Now, 340 years later, I had the opportunity to welcome a new American citizen to our family.  He came from South America.  He married into the French family and became a much loved family member.  I couldn't help but reflect about the rich family history that keeps being written in this wonderful land that has been home to my family for over three centuries. 

A few years ago, I wrote a reflection on what it means to me to be a citizen of the United States of America.  You can read that post here:  I Am An American.  Now, I can add this chapter to my American story just as Annie and Darwin are writing their own American story.  

Our connections are deeper than that of family history.  We are more than cousins.  We are bound by our love of Jesus and by our Christian faith.  

I was reminded of Ephesians 2:19 as I thought of the connection that I now have with this family. are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household.  

The French Connection:  Annie, Darwin, & daughters with Sally

Darwin and Annie will leave to return to their new home near Cusco, Peru, in less than a week.  They will begin the work of establishing a church and working with those whom already are anxiously awaiting their return.  I will miss having this family as a part of life, but I am so happy that they are returning to the land of Darwin's birth to do the work they have been called to do. 

Thank you Annie and Darwin for including me in your journey.  Thank you for making me a part of the story you two are writing with your lives.  It has been my honor to work with you.  I love you.  My prayers go with you.  

Twenty Years Ago Today ~ A Tale of Teaching and Toxic Exposure

Fifty years of age may seem to be an advanced age to begin teaching.  It seemed reasonable to me when I took on my new teaching career at the half century mark of my life.  Teaching had been a lifelong dream of mine.  I began college right after high school with the goal of becoming an elementary teacher.  I quit college before I achieved my goal.  Soon I was married.  Then, I was a stay-at-home mother to five children.  After a divorce which left me unprepared for the work world, I took a secretarial job and in time began to work on finishing that college degree.   By the age of forty-five, I had nearly raised five children, and I had completed a bachelor of science degree in  business administration.

The dream to teach had not died as I worked as a secretary and as a bookkeeper.  So, at age forty-eight, I finally went to work on getting the education I needed to teach.  By the time my fiftieth birthday rolled around, I had nearly completed my B.A. In English and was doing my student teaching.  I would soon be endorsed to teach secondary Language Arts.  After graduating Summa Cum Laude in May, 1995, the next hurdle I faced was finding a job.

Feeling quite fit and very healthy, I began my first year of teaching in August, 1995.  I’d been hired to teach seventh grade language arts at Risley Middle School in Pueblo, Colorado.  Risley was in a rough neighborhood.  I was advised by veteran teachers not to smile until after Thanksgiving.  Smiling would label me as a softie.  I was also told never to cry in front of those tough kids.  Many of them were already involved in gangs or in gang behavior.

My classroom was a interior room.  It had no windows.  It had been abandoned for a few years as one of those rooms that was only used when there was a larger enrollment.  In other words, it was a typical room for a newbie teacher.  I hadn’t earned the room with a view yet.  It was stripped bare of teaching supplies.  I couldn’t find a paper clip or a piece of chalk in the place.  I set about setting up as my classroom.  Soon school started, and my students arrived.

In November of 1995, the weather had turned cool.  This meant that the heating and cooling system came on in the building.  I immediately began to develop symptoms of sinus congestion, fatigue, ear pain, and headaches.  I attributed the symptoms to exposure to all those new germs that a first year teacher gets to meet.

Over the Winter Break in December, my symptoms all went away.  They reappeared with a vengeance in January when school stared up again.  I had a terrible burning in my nasal passages, a raspy voice, and a dry, irritating, non-productive cough.  My symptoms always improved over the weekend.

I also had flat red rashes wherever skin was exposed: my arms, my face, my neck, my scalp.  At first, I thought it was a reaction to a new skin cream I was using.  I quit the cream, and my symptoms only got worse.  I applied cortisone cream.  The rash stayed.  It never went away until after I was no longer teaching in that building.  My students also seemed to be sick often and were out of school in droves.  They had bronchitis and pneumonia.

Interestingly, I would notice that every Monday morning when I came into the classroom, there would be yellow dust on the desks at the front of the room, the chalkboard, and on my desk and podium.  I would dust it off and wonder how the chalk dust was getting all over the place.  Then, it dawned on me that I didn't use yellow chalk.  The concentration of dust was greatest under a very large heating duct in the ceiling that was located just over where I would stand to teach.  I was becoming suspicious of the vent.

I was continually so fatigued that I could barely function.  I taught my classes each day, did as much planning and grading as I could, and then would leave the classroom about an hour after school because I could not tolerate the respiratory, and neurological symptoms I would feel as the day progressed.  I would go home, make my way to my bed where I would read until my husband or my daughter Julie would return home for the day.  Julie was in college.  She and Jim did all of the grocery shopping.  Julie did a lot of the cooking, or Jim would bring in dinner many nights because I didn’t have the energy to go out.

On February 12, 1996, I smelled a terrible sewer like smell.  I had actually been smelling this odor off and on since late fall of 1995, but on this day, it was worse.  I also thought the odor sometimes smelt like burnt hair.  The odors seemed to be coming from the heating duct at the front of the room.  On this particular day, my classroom was not fit for instruction, so I took my students from the room and went to the library.  When I returned to the room, a sulfur smell that reminded me of rotten eggs permeated the room.  I thought the air also seemed quite moist.  In fact, I noted that a fog like appearance was on the window of my classroom door when I returned to the room.

When I returned to the room, I felt very light in my head.  I thought I would vomit from the smell and began gagging.  I asked to leave work for the rest of the day.  I called my husband to tell him what had happened.  He told me to go directly to the workman compensation doctor and to file an accident report stating that I had become ill from the air quality in my room.  I did as he suggested.  The doctor noted in his notes, “Exposure to noxious fumes.”  He also stated in the report, “Have air quality checked at work.”

The room was investigated by school district safety staff officials.  No problem was identified

On February 15, 1996, three days after my room was declared safe, I was back teaching in the same classroom.   It was the day after Valentine’s Day.  I still remember the beautiful bouquet of a dozen red roses from my husband that greeted me when I returned to my classroom that Thursday morning.  My room was cheerfully decorated with red hearts, and other decorative touches.  A student had given me a paper rose that she had fashioned for me the day before.  It was attached to my podium.  I sat at my desk to prepare for the day.  On my desk was a photo of all five of my children that was framed in cloth and cardboard picture frame that had been a gift from a parent.

I had been in the first class period of the day for about twenty minutes when I became violently ill.  I rushed to the restroom which was located near the nurse’s office, a short distance from my room.  I hesitated to leave my class unattended, but I had no choice.  I had to get to the restroom - fast!  As I ran past the nurse, I told her I was so ill that I had left my classroom unattended.  I had barely made my way into the restroom when the electrical power to the building went down.  I rushed back to the classroom, pulled my students out into the hall where we had air and some light.  We were in the hall for a very long time.  More than an hour.  My students were complaining of being sick, of having headaches, of being intolerant of the light.

As we sat in the hallway, I began to make notes in my DayTimer.  I was already keeping notes on the fluctuations in the heat of the building.  At times, it was intolerably hot.  I had been noting my symptoms at work for several months.  As I sat on that hallway floor, still sick and dizzy, I was recording the day’s event when a man walked by.  He appeared to be a maintenance worker.  I’d never seen him before.  He was dressed in overalls and a work shirt.  He was carrying a beaker like container that had some murky looking liquid in it.  He had a towel-like rag draped over his arm. He said to me as he passed by, “The electrical power should be back on soon.”  I describe the man in my DayTimer, and wrote, “Who is that guy?  Why is he in the building?  What is that awful looking liquid in his beaker?”

When the power went back on, an announcement went over the P.A. saying, “Students we will now go to second period.”  My first class period students departed. I entered my classroom, and soon, my second period students arrived.  I noticed with shock that the dozen red roses on my desk were now all drooping and dying.  They had been beautiful a few hours before.  They had plenty of water.  The paper rose was also wilted looking and no longer standing upright.  The picture frame separated where the frame was glued to the backing.

I picked up my grade book and proceeded to my podium so I could take roll.  I couldn’t read the page.  Not only that, I couldn’t form words.  My tongue felt swollen and I had “cotton mouth.”  I was slurring my speech badly, was confused, and I thought I was going black out.  A student asked with alarm in her voice, “Mrs. Wessely, what is wrong with you?”

I answered with a question, “Are you students ok?  How do you feel?”  This same student answered with, “I have a headache.  I got it when I walked in your room.  My mouth feels funny.  I think I’m going to be sick.”  I responded with, “Do you have a metallic taste in your mouth?  Do you feel like you have cotton in your mouth.”  A resounding “yes” from the students came back to me.

I walked over to the phone on the wall and called the school nurse.  “Come and get me.  I’m going down.  I’m very sick and about to black out.  My students are also sick.”  She was there in just a few minutes.  She led us out of the room and took us to the gymnasium with instructions to “call the health department.”

Most in the school personnel  thought I was crazy, but other teachers were also having significant problems.  The custodian would make a show of telling me the room was just fine and not too hot.  I heard through the grapevine that I was a menopausal hysteric.

On February 15th, just three days after my room had been declared “fine” the health department official came out to the school and entered my classroom.  She promptly got sick.  My room was closed down with a sign that said, “DO NOT ENTER.”  She and I would meet over the next months at the work comp office.  I still remember the union president saying to me in a somewhat mocking voice, “Sally, you have been vindicated.  The health department employee got sick in your classroom.” I never taught in that classroom again.

Another specialist from the health department was called in.  He interviewed me and noted I was confused and slurring my speech.  He asked a fellow teacher friend if I often drank on the job. 
One month later, the entire school was closed down.  We were not allowed to take our textbooks, our grade books, or any other item from our classrooms.  We completed the year in three different locations.  The school was gutted and the heating and cooling system was revamped.  I think it would be conservative to say that millions of dollars in law suits, doctor bills, and reconstruction cost to the school would be spent over years to follow.  I guess I wasn’t crazy after all.

As a teacher in the State of Colorado, I could not sue my employer no matter negligent their actions might have been.  There were lawsuits in this matter where I was a plaintiff and where I was a witness.  Many called me the “whistle blower.”  That title was bestowed upon me when I first went to the work comp doctor.  He told me he wouldn’t go back in the classroom without a canary on his shoulder.

What was I exposed to?  The doctor’s report reads:  

Documented exposures in the building include high level biocide and fungicide
exporters.  These include: Diamet, 2-mercapatobenzothiazole, (2-MBT), both of
which are known sensitizers, as well as polyacrylic acid copolymer, polyethylene
dichloride, and irritants potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, and phosphoric
acid.  The other concern in this building is potential bioaerosol exposures related to
the use of evaporative cooling, and duct board duct work.  

My Medical Records
from the Chemical Exposure

My workman comp medical file is nearly six and one half inches thick.  I have another equally thick file from attorneys.  In the next fifteen years before my file was closed out, I would see nineteen different doctors that were related to the injury in one way or the other.  I went through three workman comp attorneys because they kept retiring.

  A handful of doctors, three to be exact, believed me when I first started linking symptoms with my environment.  They were my first work comp doctor whom I saw on February 12, 1996.  He told me to put a canary on my shoulder when I returned to my classroom.  He was serious.  The other was my internist.  He told me to get out of town to get a good evaluation.  He was right. I insisted and was finally able to be sent to my wonderful doctor at National Jewish Health.  She is still my doctor. 

At the end of the school year, my contract was not renewed by the school district.  My passion to teach was not dampened by my first year of teaching when I suffered a terrible chemical exposure.  I finished the year as a very sick woman, but I was determined to find another teaching job. 

I am proud to note that I never cried.  The kids knew I was tough and that I would stand up for them and look out for their best interests.

The next school year, I was hired to teach English and English as a Second Language at the high school level.  I went on to earn a M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language.  Eight years later, I left the classroom and ended my career by writing curriculum and developing a program where teachers could earn an endorsement in Teaching the Linguistically Different (ESL) at Colorado State University-Pueblo.  I also taught future teachers of ESL and Secondary English at CSU-P.  I learned a lot my first year of teaching.  Mostly, I learned that I love to teach and nothing would stop me from pursuing my chosen career.  


I’ve needed to write this account for a very long time.*  Many of the details of the initial exposure are fresh in my mind.  It took me years to get over the emotional effects of learning I was teaching in a very unsafe environment.  I believe I carry the physical effects of the chemical exposure in my body today.  I’ve never again been healthy like I was twenty years ago.  The doctor’s notes, the legal papers, tell the tale.  If they weren’t in my possession, sometime I wonder if even I would believe this story of my first year of teaching.  

* I wrote about my journey to becoming a teacher here:  Time in the classroom: Becoming a teacher. I promised I would write about my memorable first year of teaching.  I finally did.

I've Been Busy...

Wait, I better not say "read my blog" if you want to catch up with what I've been doing.  I haven't been blogging.  I have been busy.  I suspect we all have been busy, but somehow, blogging has been placed on the back burner of my life lately.

A few words that describe me during the last few months of my life are:

  • foggy
  • unfocused
  • distracted
  • busy
  • going in too many directions
As my husband and I drove towards home today, I observed the route I take daily as I travel to and from my home and wherever else I am going with unbelieving eyes.  Surely I had not completely missed the passing of summer to fall and from fall to winter, I mused.  Yet, in my heart of hearts, I had to admit that in many ways I had missed much of the glories that come with the changing of the seasons.  I simply have been too distracted to drink it all in.

When I last wrote, I had just returned from spending time with my son in Pennsylvania after he had been injured.  As an update, he seems to be coming along in the healing department as well as can be expected.  He still has not recovered the use of his right arm and hand, but we remain hopeful as his injury heals.

Mid-October, I had planned on going to Vashon Island in Washington to again meet with my dear blogging friends.  (Read about our previous weekends here:  A Weekend To Remember and Time With Dear Friends I'd Never Met.)  I was so excited to spend time with DJan, Jann, Linda, Deb, Sandi. My tickets were all purchased, and I'd sent my deposit for the weekend.  I needed a weekend away.  I needed laughter and talks with my dear friends.  What I didn't need was the rash that appeared on my upper body about ten day prior to my departure for Vashon Island.  I used ointments and creams and self-remedies.  I saw my dermatologist.  No better after all of this, I saw my allergist.  My body had experienced an allergic reaction to some unknown trigger and the hives and rash that was making me miserable was just not getting any better.  My allergist told me she really did not want me to travel in my condition.  I considered my options, thought about the reality of having an even worse reaction to something that might require me using my dreaded EpiPen.  It really would not have been wise for me to travel in the condition I found myself, so I missed that special event and stayed home.  In the meantime, my allergy medications were increased and I spent my time trying to relax.  Finally, thankfully, the rash went away, and I stopped itching.  I could again tolerate clothes rubbing on my skin.  I decreased the allergy medications, and so far, I have been fine again.

October 22 is my dear husband's birthday.  I always look forward to his birthday because it comes at such a beautiful time of year.  This year, a few days before my hubby's birthday, on a day when he did not have to work, I asked if he would mind celebrating his birthday by visiting the Denver Botanical Gardens.  It had been several years since I had been to one of my favorite places.  Even though my hubby really doesn't get as excited over gardens as I do, he agreed to celebrate his birthday by doing something that I really wanted to do.  What a glorious day we had.  The gardens were even more spectacular because of the beautiful artwork of Dale Chihuly which is now on display throughout the garden.  

Since my outfit matched the sculpture at the entrance to the gardens, Jim took my photo.  

If you live in Colorado, and if you have not yet gone to the Denver Botanical Gardens to see this display, you must go.  The Chihuly Exhibit is there through November 30.  We were very surprised how popular the exhibit was on the day we were there.  We literally took the last parking place in the parking garage.  There was a line to buy tickets.  The garden was full of people.  Despite all the crowds, we really enjoyed our time.  The trees in the garden were still colorful and some perennials and roses were still blooming.    Here are some of the highlights:

Flowers of glass against a fountain

A beautiful rose 

"Easy Does It"  Rose 
The rose that I planted at our home in Pueblo in memory of Julie was especially beautiful.  Seeing it in bloom brought great joy to my heart.  

I loved the oranges, red, and yellows in this display.

Lots of color and shapes to delight the eye

The pairing of "Easy Does It" with orbs of orange and yellow brought thoughts of Julie to my mind.

One more shot of my favorite rose.

Another sculpture…

The same sculpture up close…

These sculptures reminded me of the glaciers we saw in Alaska.  I thought they were especially interesting.

Fall in all its glory is punctuated by these red spires.

More red spires…
These looked as if they were growing out of the ground.

The day at the gardens was a special outing for us.  Thankfully, we had a day together in sun drinking in the waning days of fall.


On October 22, Jim's actual birthday, we both had to work. Yes, I have taken a job.  That is why I am so busy.   I was unsure whether or not I would take the job after it was offered to me.  I had not officially applied for it.  A teacher quit and there was a need for another teacher to replace her.  I was called.  I visited the class prior to accepting the position.  Stepping on campus, I realized I was a goner. Who could resist this view everyday?  This campus is absolutely beautiful.  

I actually began my new job on October 22.  I am teaching international students English at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS).  Yes, I am indeed back in the saddle again.  Perhaps, this is why I have felt overwhelmed, foggy, distracted, and as if I were going in too many directions.  I also have been quite happy when I am actually in the classroom teaching.  I've told friends that the best way to actually cure the fantasy of going back to work is to actually go back to work.

I love teaching again.  It is good for me to be on campus with young people.  I love the campus atmosphere.  I have missed it so much.  It is also great to be working with international students again.  I love doing that.  Also, it is good for me to be involved with others in an atmosphere where I am constantly challenged to think, create, and teach. 

 It has been a greater challenge than I anticipated to teach this time around.  I gave away or threw away nearly all of my professional resources when we moved.  Everyday, I feel as if I am reinventing the wheel as I try to bring in interesting activities to enrich the lessons I am teaching to my students learning English.  Thankfully, my class only meets two and a half hours a day, four days a week.  This means that I have a schedule that does not tax me physically; however, I find that I spend every morning in lesson preparation before my 2:00 p.m. class. 

This opportunity to teach came along without me really seeking it.  I am grateful for it.  It has expanded my horizons yet again.  I will only be teaching until mid December.  By then, I'm sure I will happily reclaim my title of Retired English Teacher.  If I don't get around to visit, please forgive me.  I miss reading your blogs, but I am a bit bogged down right now.  I hope to be back among you all soon...

Time in The Classroom ~ Becoming a Teacher

Missing the classroom begins when the shelves are stocked with new school supplies.

The beginning of any new school year always causes me to be a bit nostalgic.
I found myself in the school supply aisle at the store the other day.
Who can resist looking at those new notebooks,
and pens,
and pencils?
I know I can't.
I love this time of the year when the shelves are stocked with all those new school supplies.
This year,
I didn't buy a new notebook.
I didn't even buy a new pen.  
I don't need a new pen since I bought my favorite pen of all time:
the wonderful Bee Blossom Seven Year Pen.
(I do love this pen.  It is the best pen I've ever had. It might not last seven years, but writing with it is pure joy.)  
Ok, maybe that last statement is a bit over the top, but some of us really love our pens and pencils.

Missing the Classroom

Maybe, just maybe, it was my love of pens and pencils, and of books that set my destiny in motion.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to teach.
I decided I wanted to become a teacher in kindergarten.
I loved school.
I loved my teacher.
I loved the classroom.

No wonder, I get a bit of a lost feeling when the school year starts without me.

My journey to becoming a teacher was a long one.  It took me longer than I ever expected to actually become a teacher.  In high school, I'm not sure I had my pathway mapped out for the future the way I wish I would have.  I knew for sure that I wanted to teach.  I also knew that would mean I would need to go to college.  No one in my immediate family had ever graduated from college when I was in high school.  My father had attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs, but he had dropped out just short of finishing his degree.  I think he only needed about seven credit hours to finish.  Somehow, the financial concerns during the Depression Era, and marriage, must have gotten in the way, and he never finished. 

My father was a man who championed education and placed great value on reading and writing.  He was always reading.  He wrote well.  He was a wonderful story-teller.  He encouraged great discussions at the dinner table, and he encouraged us to read and to think.  He also was realistic when it came to helping me select the courses I should take in high school.  He thought I was foolish to take Latin instead of Spanish.  I think we was pretty much right on that.  Latin always helped me with my understanding of vocabulary and grammar, but I should have also taken Spanish.  I regret that I did not.  He also insisted that I take typing.  He said that I would need that skill to get a job.  He was right on that advice.  He thought it was fine to take college prep English, but he also knew that I really needed help in the mathematics department.  He tried to help me all he could as I suffered through high school algebra.

When I graduated from high school, I was offered scholastic scholarships to two different state colleges.  I insisted that I wanted to attend what was then called Colorado State College in Greeley, Colorado.  It was the "teacher's college."  And so, on a September day fifty years ago, I went off to college on the first leg of a journey that would take more years than I ever imagined to becoming a teacher.  (This photo of me, decked out in my new going off to college outfit,  was taken one late summer afternoon all those many years ago by my high school boy friend.  Yes, he is now my husband.  And yes, I did wear this outfit, right down to shoes and the purse, on my first day as a college co-ed.)

Off to College
My head is full of many happy memories of my college days.  I lived in a college dorm, worked in the college dining hall, joined a sorority, Sigma Kappa, and met many wonderful friends.  One of those friends is still one of my dearest friends.  I am so grateful I had these opportunities and experiences.  Unfortunately, after the first semester of my junior year, I left college.  

I thought I would get back to school to finish my degree, but before long, I met a young man at work.  Six months later, I married this young man.  He and I spent nearly sixteen years together as husband and wife before we divorced.  During those years when we were married, he would finish his college degree, earn a masters degree, and earn a living as a high school teacher.  We also have five children together.  Those years, short on money and time, I spent my days taking care of my children and home. Going back to school to finish what I had started years before was only a dream that I knew would have to wait until later.  

After my divorce, I found my self in the unenviable position of being a single mom without a job or a college education.  During this time, in the Summer of 1981, I went to a conference where I was inspired to follow my dream to get that long desired college diploma.  That night when I returned home, I wrote the following words in my journal:
August 6, 1981
"The time frame in which we attain our goals may be altered but never lessens our inner need to fulfill them."  These words were spoken tonight at the conference for women by Dr. Lindquist at Weber State College.  My deep inner needs include a need to write seriously, to finish college, and to teach.  With the Lord's help, I do hope to fulfill these goals in the timeframe in which I have to work.

In reality, meeting such goals right after my divorce seemed like a dream that would never happen.  I had no money.  I didn't have a job.  I hadn't worked in years.  I didn't have any marketable job skills, except, I could type.  (Thanks to my father's instance, I could do that.)  

In time, I found a job as a secretary for a school district in Colorado Springs where I had relocated from Utah.  My salary was low.  I was a single mom.  I need to work.  I could not take off the time to go to college.  Even if I did finish my college coursework to teach, I could not take the time off to do observations of classrooms and student teaching.  

So, I went a different route.  After a few years, I went back to college at night to work on a BS degree in Business Administration.  Finally, in 1987, twenty-five years after I had begun work on my first year in college, I earned that long sought for college degree.  

Earning a BS in Business Administration
I was very proud of what I had accomplished in that moment, but I still didn't have a teaching certificate.  I had not let go of that dream yet, but again,  it seemed rather bleak that I would ever actually turn this dream into reality. 

Fast forward to 1992.  I married my high school sweetheart during that year.  I also began working as an accounting assistant doing bookkeeping for the school district in Pueblo.  About a year later, the carpel tunnel syndrome  and cubital tunnel syndrome problems I had ignored for years finally caused me seek treatment.  My surgeon said I could not work during the time I was recuperating from surgery, and in fact, told me to expect to be on workman's comp for at least a year and a half.  He also told me he would never release me to go back to doing the kind of work I had been doing for the past ten years.  In the meantime, I lost my job and my benefits.

Looking back, this turn of events was a God send.  My doctor would not release me from going back to work, but he didn't say I couldn't go to school.  So, in January of 1994, just a few weeks after surgery to release my trapped ulnar nerve from the cubital tunnel on my right arm, I began college again.  Julie, my youngest daughter was a college freshman at the same University.  She proudly wrote my name in my books for me since I could not yet write with my right hand.  Equipped with a tape recorder, I began the coursework that would lead me towards my long sought goals. 

A year and a half later, after taking all those English courses that I loved, and after a wonderful trip to England to study Theater in London, and after student teaching on my 50th birthday, I finally graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English and a secondary teaching certificate in English/Language Arts. I thought I was pretty old, to be entering the teaching profession, but as I look at a photo from that time, I marvel at how young I was!
Sally & one of her favorite professors
Dr. M. Barber
Oxford, England
I guess the rest is history.  I did land a teaching job after graduation.  I began my teaching career by teaching seventh grade English in the toughest middle school in the school district.  I was told not to smile before Thanksgiving because the kids would eat me alive if I did.  I don't know when I smiled; all I know is that I never cried.  That year deserves a book.  I will tell you about it in another post.  Just know, that I was hooked on teaching, even though my first year was worse than rough.  

I don't know that I have ever gotten the bug to teach out of my system even though I retired from teaching at the University level seven years ago.  I miss those times in the classroom.

To Be Continued...

Are We Done With This Yet?


We need to downsize.  The task of going through a lifetime of things stored in our basement seems a bit daunting at the moment.  We decided that the only way we can possibly accomplish the task of moving and downsizing is to do it in stages.

Stage One

Sort through professional papers, books, notebooks, teaching materials and memorabilia from the classroom and our professions.  

Most folks don't have to close down two complete offices during a lifetime.  Many just retire and walk away from the job they may have performed for many years.  My husband and I were educators.  We have a lot of teaching materials that we either could not give away when we retired because we weren't sure if we would need it for consulting and such, or we didn't have time to sort through as we went through the process of working right up until the last day on the job.  Hence, we brought it all home with us with the best intentions of going through it all later.  You know how that goes.

Well, later is now.  We must make those hard decisions.  What shall we keep?  What shall we toss?

Thankfully, there are those who understand.  There are those who have been there and done that.  My dear friend Dixie has been a teacher, and she has moved a lot of times.  She has the skill set I needed for the task that I face.  I didn't even have to ask her for help.  She just picked up the phone, called, and said, "I will come and help you pack.  When do you need my help?"  She came for three hours one day, and she came back the next day to finish up with what we had started.  

Dixie holds two books.
Are we done with these yet?
Yes, for sure toss No Child Left Behind!
We are happy to get rid of that for sure.
Some of my best friends are ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers.  We share a special bond.  We love our profession where we were blessed to teach immigrant children who were learning English while they tried to adjust to life and school in a new country.  As Dixie and I were going through endless books, papers, and professional notebooks I had acquired during my career, I found the training notebook I had put together for a professional development course I taught to teachers in the local school district while I was working at the Colorado State University-Pueblo as a program coordinator and professor.  When I opened the notebook to see if I should keep it, there was Dixie's name and phone number on the first page.  I had taken the number down so I could come to visit her at the school where she taught.  She was actually teaching in the same high school and had the same job I had held before I left to go to the University.

Back in January of 2004, I had been hired to write the curriculum and develop the program that would allow teachers and pre-teachers to add an endorsement to teach the Linguistically Diverse (ELL - English Language Learners) Education Endorsement to an existing teacher license.   I left the public classroom at that time.  After I retired, I met Dixie again.  We taught together when I took a semester position to teach reading at an elementary school where Dixie was teaching ESL.  We became fast friends and have remained so ever since.  I recommended she be hired after she retired to help teach the same course I was teaching to foreign students learning English at CSU-Pueblo during the second semester of 2011.

I love Dixie's approach to most things in life.  She is very practical and level-headed.  She is great sounding board for me.  She also is a faithful friend.  She has long time friends all over the country.  Once you are her friend, she is there for you forever.  I don't think I could have accomplished much of this move, been able to survive the death of my daughter, or been able to cope with my health issues without friends such as Dixie.  Thanks, Dixie!

The emotional side of downsizing

I think I could write a book on this topic.  Our basement, the mess that it was, had been culled over and over by my husband and myself over the past seventeen years, and yet it still remained the repository for our lives.  When we married 20 years ago, we combined two families that were well established with a lot a stuff.  We thinned out many possessions then.  The scrapbooks and mementos from the past were relegated to the basement.  The textbook we saved from college were still there.  The books we read in the 60's, 70's, 80's and beyond were there.  We are readers.  We have books.  Our professional books and papers were there.  Our children's games, books, and even many toys were there.  The grandkids played with the Lite Bright, played UNO, played all those other games from the 70's.  There were Fisher Price people and animals, Barbie dolls, and G I Joe toys in the basement.  There coloring books, crayons, legos, small toy trucks, and puzzles.   I'm a mom who has a hard time getting rid of those things.  I got a bit emotional about donating the small children size  table chairs where my children sat to eat and play games when they small.  I almost gave it away, and then rescued it in the end.  

We tried to be objective.  Dixie was most helpful with assisting me in objectivity when it came to professional items.  She guided me to ask the good questions.  "Is this outdated?"  "Will you use this to teach again?"  "Do you plan on doing any more consulting?"  "Are there duplicates?"  "Was this book one you bought for a course you took, or was it for one you taught?"  I was able to get rid of many things based on answering these questions.  We made our piles of things as we sorted:  to storage, to the new house, to donation, to shred, to throw away.  We got it done! 

Some professional files etc.
To some, all of these boxes, files, and notebooks are just a bunch of junk.  To me they are my body of work that represents my professional life.  Many of my files of lessons taught, curriculum developed, and presentations given are saved on thumb drives.  Despite this, I felt the need to keep some hard copies because they give me a more clear picture of what I developed.  I may yet decide to consult again.  I was not ready to throw it all away.

Going through the remnants of my professional life gave me renewed confidence.  I was reminded that I have accomplished a lot.  I was a stay-at-home mom until my divorce in 1982.  I had five children between the ages of five and fifteen.  I had not finished college.  I went back to school and earned my first BS in Business Administration in 1987 while I worked full-time and went to school full-time.  I finished my second degree, a BA in English with an added teaching certificate to teach secondary Language Arts (grades 9 -12) in 1995.  I was 50 years old when I began teaching,  and I finally reached a lifelong goal by doing so.  From there, I earned the long sought for MA in Teaching Linguistically Diverse Education in 2002.  

Cultural responsiveness, assessment, lesson plan guide, second language learning strategies, content instruction to English language learners, L1 and L2, Lau vs. Nichols 1974, and other such terms no longer seem relevant to my everyday life.  I no longer look forward to monthly meetings with my great friends and colleagues at the Colorado Department of Education - English Language Acquisition Unit where other colleagues from universities around the state and I met while we worked on projects funded by a Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant we had received.  In fact,  the ELAU no longer exits in the same form.  I remember meetings at BOCES and the CDE Talking Book Library.  After fondly going through my meeting notes, I  finally throw out all the agendas and notes from those days.  

I look at Socratic Seminar Grading Criteria forms I created while teaching World Literature at the high school level.  I ponder the EQ's (essential questions) for lessons on Beowulf, The Inferno, Oedipus, the King, and other pieces of literature we studied.  I read the list of Habits of Mind to use while responding to literature:  give evidence, state connections to other topics, state the significance of what you are arguing, etc.  I look at the handout for a unit a work by Shakespeare where students were to write a personal commentary on one of three topics:  Power relationships, Courtship/dating, Sisters.  Most of all of these final bits of teaching materials that remained after other times of getting rid of things, I finally tossed, but I remembered those days of teaching with such fondness and a bit of longing.


I take with me fewer concrete reminders of my teaching days.  We have lightened our load considerably when it comes to books.  Some books, mostly or personal reading books,  were like dear friends that I had to send away.  This quote says it best:

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Despite these feeling and emotions surrounding our beloved books, we just could not move them all.  It is too expensive, we can't carry the loads up and down the stairs, and we have no place to put them in our new place.  So, we donated many to a local bookstore that takes donated books, re-sells them, and the proceeds go to the local library.  We donated 35 boxes of books filled with about 20 books to each box.  That means we got rid of over 700 books.  That was just with this latest book culling project.  About five or six months ago, we probably go rid of at least 300 more.  Believe me, we kept plenty.  We still have our most beloved books to take with us.  Plus, I have many, many of Julie's books.  She had great books!  I treasure her reading choices and selections.  Those books are not going anywhere except with me in my lifetime.

Stage One Completed!

Stage Two 

Move the things we have left from the basement to a storage unit.

Yesterday, after receiving much help from wonderful friends and family members, we finished stages one and two of our move.  The basement is nearly empty.  The box after box of canning jars are gone.  Childhood toys, games, and books are mostly gone.  Jim and I made the run to Colorado Springs with the U-Haul truck last night and loaded a much lighter load than we thought it would be into the storage unit.  We promise ourselves that this is a temporary fix for stuff we will revisit once we are completely moved.  

We are tired, yet we are also most relieved to have this part of our move done.  Now, we await the final closing and hope it all comes off according to plan.  Then, the professional movers will come in and pack up the house and we will make the move to a new home and in a new town.  I will be going home, but for Jim this is a very big change.  He is very excited, and so I am I.  I am finally over a lot of the nostalgia and sadness over leaving this home.  I am ready to move on.  We are tired.  We are stressed!!!  We are happy.

State Two Completed!

9/11/01 - Teaching During Tragedy

There are two events in history that are forever linked in my mind to Room 509, the room where I taught high school English.  Those two events are Columbine and 9/11. I was in the classroom teaching when both these events burst upon the national scene and changed our lives forever.

When such terrible tragedy occurs while one is teaching, the role of being a teacher takes over.  I found that I could not allow myself the luxury of fully experiencing my own shock and grief during either event because I had a responsibility to help my students process and understand what was happening without causing them to become even more confused and afraid because of the way I presented myself.  I had to be strong for them.  I had to reassure them that we were safe.  I had to make sure that they knew that I would be in charge of our little corner of the world while I tried to help them make sense of what was happening.  I could not give in to panic.  I could not cry uncontrollably.  I could not go into some sort of stunned shutdown.  I had to manage my classroom and look after my students.

I will never forget the morning of 9/11.  I was at the front of my classroom standing at my podium taking roll for my first period class when I notice a colleague  who did not teach first period standing outside my row of classroom windows that looked out into the library.  She seemed terribly upset, shaken.  She was the drama teacher afterall, but her distress seemed extreme and quite real.  I walked to the door at the back of the room and quietly asked if something was wrong.  "Some SOBs have just flown air planes into the Twin Towers in New York City," she said.  "Does your television work?  Turn it on.  We're under attack."

"I can't just go back in there and turn on my t.v. and watch New York being attacked by air," I said.  "Find out if this is true and what is really happening.  Surely, we will hear from administration if this is true.  Surely, they will come and tell us what is happening."  "Don't be too sure," she said.  "You know how teachers are the last to know."

True.  We were the last to find out what was really going on.  Within no time at all, parents were showing up at the school and taking their kids home.  I had turned the television on by then to try and get some news.  I had decided that it was better that the students heard what was going on from a news source in an environment where I had some control.  I would be able to help them make sense of what was happening.  I asked the students to get out their journals to write about their emotions.  I told them to write down their questions that still lingered as to what was really happening.  I said it was important to record what they were seeing happen.  I encouraged them to write their emotions out.  I offered to read and discuss privately what they had written.   It seemed to be the only thing I could do that would help the students make sense of a world that had suddenly exploded before their eyes.  Perhaps, my approach was wrong.  I tried to keep communication open.  I tried to reassure.  I tried to comfort.  I was not ever told how to hand such a thing in any of my teacher ed classes.

I had not taken into account that our principal would finally come on the P.A. with the following announcement:  "Teachers, you are to turn off your televisions.  You are to follow the lesson plans you have for today.  Any news that needs to be relayed to you and your students will come from the office.  Do not excuse any student from your classroom unless they are sent for by the office.  Do not allow your students to leave your classroom."

He was a former social studies teacher.  Somehow, he didn't think it was appropriate that we watch history being made during class time.  Somehow, he didn't think the delivery of the curriculum should be adjusted to use the current event topic as a writing prompt.  We were to stay on task.  There would be no television watching in his school.

Ironically, in my tenth grade English classes we were to read, Contents of a Dead Man's Pockets that day. (Click on the story title to read the story yourself.)  The story is about a man who goes after a piece of paper that flies out of a window in a skyscraper.  He actually goes out on the ledge of the building to go after the paper.

So, while New York City was under attack, and while the people of New York were facing untold horror, we read about a guy stuck on a ledge of a skyscraper.  I don't know when a story seemed more real than the one we read that day.  I don't know when a story generated more discussion that seemed to really fit what was going on around us.

It is ironic to me that I now see much on the internet on how teach today's students about 9/11.  I am not sure that even now after all these ten years I know that how I handled what I taught my students about what was happening before our very eyes was appropriate.  I don't know that I am able to make sense of what happened that day any better today than I could then.  I only know that I wanted my students to know that when it appears the world is falling down around you, it is important to pull together, talk to each other, support each other, and to help each other feel less afraid.

We all lost a measure of innocence that day.  Life as we knew it changed.  The unthinkable had happened.  I remembered the bomb drills that we had practiced when I was a child in elementary school during the early 50's when we hid under our desks, or lined up in the hallway with our head tucked between our knees.  Those fears of being bombed had been left behind in the 50's.  Now, in the first year of the new millennium, I found myself teaching in a classroom while watching air planes attack the center of New York City.  I still am not sure any of us can ever teach others what that meant to us personally or to our nation.

Wrapping Up A Successful Semester

I've been back to retirement mode for about two weeks now.  Retirement has a way of luring one into thinking that there is always tomorrow that can be used for all the things that don't get done today.  With that being said, perhaps you will understand why I am just now posting some of the final activities that I had with my students from the international program at our local University.The semester literally seemed to fly by.  Here are some highlights for our time together since Spring Break:

  • We said good-bye to my dear friend Dixie who substituted for the regular instructor for Level Two students with a party and a presentation of the life maps we made in class.
Colorful Life Maps

Dixie surrounded by her students
  • We never pass up an opportunity for a photo op

Some of the girls

A couple of the guys
  • I gave an end of the semester brunch at my house
Our faithful volunteer tutors
Walter and Alda

We are so grateful for this couple who graciously have given so much time to the program for years.  We really appreciate them, their help, and their great personalities.

A fine young man 
Part of the joy of working in the program is getting to know youth from many countries.  I keenly feel a great responsibility toward these students whose parents give them the opportunity to study in another country when they are so young.  This student proved himself to be worthy of that trust by working very hard and making incredible progress.

Another fine student
I can't imagine what it must have been like for our Japanese student when he learned of the earthquake in his country this semester.  He was the picture of great perseverance as he continued to work hard while knowing that his country was in a time of great distress.  It was rewarding to see how the class came together with concern and support during the time of crisis in Japan.

Eating together

The light is not great in these photos, but you get to see the great time of friendship that we all enjoyed.

My guests brought flowers and other gifts
to grace the table
 I love the faces on these beautiful cats that were graciously given as a gift to the hostess.  Thank you so much for the gifts that you brought!
Two darling cats

  • We gathered one last time as a class the day before the final.  Everyone was nervous about taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) the next day.  We all were also very sad as some of us tearfully said good-bye to each other.  Those of us there, gathered for one last photo together.  Sadly, one important class member was not there that day.
My students and I
Spring Semester 2011
I don't know that I will ever be able to properly express how much I have appreciated the students I worked with this past semester.  They, all five of them, were some of the finest people I have ever met.  Working with them helped me to heal from the greatest loss of my life.  Two of the students were born the same year as my daughter.  For some reason, I found this especially healing to see them progress in the life goals they have set for themselves.  

Someone gave me this card a number of years ago.  I have kept it on my desk all these years.  Someone else gave me memento that says, "A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart."  At the center of teaching is heart.  As a teacher, I have learned it is the teacher's heart that is most moved, most touched, and most enlarged.  I have always loved being a teacher.  It is a profession that have given more than I have ever given it.  This year teaching truly helped to heal my broken heart.  

Some of our wonderful international students
Students gather in the International Office
to celebrate graduation

I've taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to high school students, middle school students, and elementary students.  Each group brings its own special joys and challenges.  Now, I am hooked on teaching college age international students.  It is special to go to the office and see so many nationalities speaking so many languages everyday.  The experience has broadened my heart, my world, and my circle of friends.  

The End Is Near

I have not become a prophet who is predicting the end of the world.  I am just a very tired retired teacher who decided to come out of retirement and teach for a semester.  I am barely hanging in there until the end.  Thankfully, the end (of the semester) is near.

 I made the decision to go back to work because:
  • The job was part time. In truth, I taught four straight hours a day.  With preparation time and etc., I worked five or six hours a day.  
  • I missed working with students.  This is true I did.  I have loved working with students.
  • I missed working with colleagues.  This is also true.  I have loved working with my colleagues.
  • I wanted to stay busy during the winter.  I've kept busy and that is a good thing.
  • I wanted to make some extra money.  Adjunct professors are paid ridiculously low salaries.  It really was not financially worth my time to work for what I was paid.  (I had to hire a housekeeper to keep up with the house while I was working.  Her hourly rate of pay is higher than mine!)
I've had a great semester.  One I would not have wanted to miss out on.  I have had the most wonderful students from three different countries that you can ever imagine.  We have worked hard together.  We have learned much from each other.  We have laughed often and had a lot of learning adventures.  Now, we are coming to the end of our days together.  That is always a very bittersweet thing.  I love the students.  I love the work.  I am also extremely tired.  My energy levels are not what they once were.

My husband also came out of retirement and has been working full-time this semester.  He is also exhausted.  We seem to be going to bed earlier and earlier every night.  Since Spring Break, we've just been barely hanging on.  

Last week, on facebook,  I posted this photo of the two of us that was taken one year ago while we were in Vienna, Austria.  I heard my husband, who never swears, say something about 'hell' after he saw the photo.  From my study, I called out, "What did you just say?"  He answered with, "We look like hell compared to how we looked a year ago."  

Sadly, he is right.  I know I have aged considerably since then.  I lost a child. I have spent most of the last year trying to grieve and heal from that shock.  My husband has been right there by my side throughout it all.

Then, we went back to work.  That was a good thing.  We both needed to get out among kids, educators, and do what we do best.  We are so grateful that we were able to use our skills to help others and to help ourselves heal.  

We are now really ready to go back to retirement.  Thankfully, we are seeing the light at the end of tunnel.  Tomorrow is my last official class.  We have a party on Friday at my home.  Next week we will have the final.  Then, I am finished with teaching.  Jim has to work until the end of May. 

We hope to resume the lives we had in retirement.  We need to get back to the gym.  The yard needs a lot of work.  We want to go fishing.  We want to take a few small trips.  We want to stay up late if we want to.  We want to get up without hearing the alarm go off.  We are ready to be retired again.  The end of our working days is near.  The beginning of enjoying retirement is finally returning.  

This time I really think we won't go back to work again.  We agree with the governor who decided not to run for president.  We just don't have the "fire in the belly" to keep working in education like we once did.  Thankfully, we have options.  After working for a season, we now choose to return to retirement.

My World is Smaller and Much Wider Because I Teach and I Blog

I have been struck by how small our world has come.  We hear of disasters almost in real time because of the internet, and social networking.  I first read of the earthquake in Japan and the subsequent tsunami warnings as soon as I got up on Friday.  A dear friend and former colleague who now lives in her native Hawaii posted on Facebook that there was a tsunami warning in Hawaii.  Before I even knew why there was a tsunami, I was concerned for both my former teaching buddy and my blogging friend who both live in Hawaii.  When I say concerned, I mean, I really was worried.  They both are a part of my daily life these days, almost as if we were teaching in the same building or living on the same block, because of social networking.  I connect with them more than I connect with my next door neighbors!  I know more about them than I do about my next door neighbors.

So, once I heard about the tsunami warning, I immediately went to my Hawaiian blogger friend Kay's blog (click to link to her blog) to see if she was ok.  She is such a dear person.  I read her blog daily,  and, even though we have never really 'met,' I've really grown fond her and her husband and her mother.  Her mother, originally from Japan, lives with her.  They still have family in Japan.  Kay is always so kind in her words when she comments on my blog posts.  Yes, I think, it is amazing.  I am connected to people a great distance from me because of my blog, and I am genuinely concerned about their safety and well being.

I wasn't able to see a posting by Kay until later in the morning on Friday, March 1l.   While I was work at the University and on a break, I finally was able to read her most recent blog assuring us that they were safe.

Being able to read a blog on my iPhone also amazes me.  Technology has made my world not only bigger but also smaller.  It is bigger because I have access to people I never would have met otherwise.  It is smaller because the miles that separate us mean little in cyber land.

While I was reading about Kay's situation, I was still worried about the family of one of my student Junichi who is from Tokyo, Japan.  He had not yet come to class at 9:30 on Friday.  Junichi never misses class, and he usually the second to arrive in the morning.  We were all concerned.  Was he trying to reach his family?  Were they ok?  Had they suffered any kind of harm or damage?  Yes, because I teach international students, my world is smaller. After all the years that I have been teaching second language learners,  I am connected to students who come from many countries and speak many languages.

Sally with Junichi using iPhone to photograph cake
Woo Huck on far left
Finally, just before 10:00, Junichi arrives.  He is noticeably shaken, but he also seems greatly relieved.  He has been able to finally reach his mother by phone.  She had safely arrived home.  Her apartment was still standing.  He said that she had left her job at 5:00 in the evening on the day of the earthquake.  Public transportation was not working.  She had to walk for seven hours to get home, but she did it.  She made it home safely.

I can't even imagine what she saw on her long journey.  I can't even imagine the fear that must have gone through her mind.  I wonder if she worried how she would find her home once she reached it.  I keep thinking of this woman and wonder at her stamina and determination.  I feel privileged to be able to teach her son.  He works hard.  He studies hard.  He is a son for whom she can feel great pride.  I am grateful that his life has not been touched by the loss of his mother while he is in the United States.  I am sure he must be devastated as he sees the photos coming out of Japan.  He will need a great deal of support from others in the days and weeks ahead.

Just a few weeks ago, we in the International Program at CSU-Pueblo, were worried about our former student who was from Libya.  Several had tried to call him or email him to see how his family was doing in Libya.  That very afternoon after we had been discussing our worries about his family, I came home and saw an article about him and other Libyan students in the United States in The Denver Post.  In fact, I was very shocked when I saw our former student's picture posted in the newspaper.   (Photo from The Denver Post)

Yes, indeed, my world in smaller and much wider because I teach. It is also much enriched with friendships that span many countries and many languages.  My heart is open to the struggles that other nations and their people are going through.  I have worked with, taught,  grown to respect, and to care deeply about their youth.  My mind is broader, and my soul is enriched because I understand how connected we all are no matter what we believe or what languages we speak.

 I am grateful to be part of a profession that allows me to link my life to lives of so many who have come from all over the world.  It has been a blessing.  My life is much richer because my path has crossed the path of many students from many lands.  These students have touched my heart as we labor together in the classroom.  Their families are never far from their minds.  For that reason, their struggles, their heartbreaks, and the devastation that touches those they left behind at home touch my heart deeply.