March 26th, 2004
On this day thirteen years ago my life changed forever.
That sounds a little dramatic, but it’s true. For the previous 35 years – in another life – I had been a primary (elementary) school teacher. Eight of those years I enjoyed being a teacher librarian; I loved buying books and using the school’s money and not mine. I loved the relationship I had with the students in my classes over the years. I still keep contact with many of them, either on Facebook or in the town where I live. It’s great to see them developing as adults and to see their own children growing up.
What happened to change my life?
On that momentous day in March 2004, I clearly remember hearing a voice inside my head saying, ‘You’ve left your classroom for the last time.’ Now, I must clarify that I am a Christian and believe that God ‘speaks’ to us in many ways, but my experience of His audible voice has been very infrequent. I can really only recall one other occasion. During the first few months of 2004, I had been seriously struggling with illness. Teaching became an almost impossible struggle. On this day, March 26th, I had endured a meeting arranged for me with a counsellor. It was not easy acknowledging that I needed some serious help.
The voice was right. That was my last day of teaching in a primary school. I was granted some sick-leave by my doctor – I had plenty in reserve – and took several months off while I recovered. The process was long and emotional; I won’t bore you with the details. I didn’t want to give up a calling to teach, something I loved doing but a task which had become so hard in the face of my illness.
As my health improved, I was able to consult my financial planner. She looked at my situation with great compassion and understanding, just as my doctor and counsellor had done. She asked whether I would rather teach for a few more years to build up my superannuation, or cut loose and get better. ‘Do you want the extra money, or do you want your health?’
It was a no-brainer, really. especially when she told me that to teach for several more years as I had planned would only increase my super payout by a few dollars per week – $15 was the figure, I think.
I resigned forthwith.
And that’s when my life changed forever.
Life after teaching
For many months I struggled with coming to terms with my sudden retirement. It took me a long time to adjust to not fronting up at school every morning. It took me a while to get over my illness. One thing is certain: during the winter months that year, when the rain was pouring down outside, and the wind was howling around our home, and I was reading a good book in front of our fire, I did NOT miss venturing out to supervise the children during after-school bus duty. I didn’t miss it at all.
Over the subsequent years, I have experienced many wonderful times. Some of this has related to travel. I have been free to enjoy the delights of Thailand, Nepal (see the photo above of Ama Dablam, just a few miles from Everest), enigmatic Ethiopia, mesmerising Morocco and scintillating Spain. My wife and I have also travelled extensively in Australia in that time. We are planning more travel in the coming years. I have written about many of my adventures on my travel site called Trevor’s Travels.
After I had recovered sufficiently from my ill-health, I set about establishing my second career as a writer. I had always been a writer, but my writing was confined to weekends and school holiday periods. In the 1990s I actually published six books; two teacher curriculum books with four accompanying student workbooks, all of them sadly now out of print.
On my son’s encouragement, I started writing three blogs, this one you are now reading, plus Trevor’s Birding and Trevor’s Travels. I would love it if you visited them and left some comments. Both sites feature hundreds of photos of Australian birds and scenery shots of places we have visited. In total, with these three sites and two other sites I write for, I have published nearly 5000 articles since retiring. I feel tired just typing that!
During my retirement, I have also written several – as yet unpublished – novels and picture book texts, along with dozens of articles, short stories and poems. (Click on the sidebar to read some of my poems and stories.) Nearly 100 of these stories and poems have been published in a range of newspapers, journals and magazines.
Not content with just writing all of these blog posts, novels, stories and poems, a few years ago I also completed my degree. I now have a Master of Arts in Creative Writing. You can read about that process here. This has led to some lecturing and speaking at conferences. What I learned during this course has equipped me to tackle some earlier novels I wrote back in the 1990s. I am now in the process of rewriting them. Stayed tuned; I hope to publish these very soon.
On occasions, people ask me if I ever miss teaching. It’s a very valid question, especially in the light of a lifetime – 35 years – in the classroom. The short answer is ‘no’. I do not miss the long hours of preparation, marking and professional reading required. I do not miss the unending staff meetings and the politics of the staff-room. I do not miss the parents who make life hard for teachers to do their job; thankfully I experienced very few of them.
I do miss the children. I do miss seeing children develop their skills, especially children like Jennifer. She astounded me with the progress she made under my care and guidance.
I do miss building relationships with children and seeing them go on successfully in life. I actually keep a list of successful former students, following their careers.
And above all, I miss the fact that they all used to laugh at my ‘dad jokes’. Now my longsuffering wife is generally my only audience, though my 8-year-old grandson thinks I am hilarious.
It’s time to roll out a list of what I hope to do in the coming years:
- Many more blog posts here on this site, and the other sites I mentioned above.
- Continue on a wide-ranging reading programme, something all writers should do.
- Rewrite and publish as eBooks my novels, collections of stories and poems.
- Publish as eBooks several non-fiction books as spin-offs from my blogs.
- Write more novels; I have ideas for at least six more. Coming up with ideas is easy; writing the books is hard.
- Continue to travel here in Australia as health and finances allow.
Mmm… looks like I have a busy time ahead.
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I’d like you to meet Jennifer.
That’s not her real name. I don’t want anyone to be able to identify her.
Jennifer at age seven came into my class as a scared, wide-eyed little girl with a few problems. She was selectively mute. She also had a speech impediment, which could explain why she didn’t speak very much. She chose not to communicate in any vocal way. She had a word that sounded vaguely like “toilet” (bathroom for my American readers) when she needed to leave the room. She had another word “dink” which I translated as her desire to go to her bag to get a drink. That was about it.
She hadn’t learned more than a few letters of the alphabet in two years of schooling. She could barely write her name and as for being able to read… well, she recognised her own name, her sister’s name and few other words. I knew it was going to be a challenge, seeing I had seven other children with great learning needs as well. At least most of them knew how to communicate orally, but their writing and reading skills were so lacking. The other 20 students were your average garden variety children with only one or two of above average achievement.
I began an intensive programme of reading, writing, listening, stories, poems, speaking activities, drama – whatever my 30+ years of teaching experience could draw upon to help Jennifer and the other students. I won’t even go into details about the Mathematics programme! These students had GREAT needs.
Step by step, one lesson at a time, one little piece of progress and many setbacks along the way. There were many discouragements, but they were offset by little victories, small advances, concepts learned and applied. One of the vital cogs in all of this was journal writing. Daily exercises in writing were adhered to, even when the going was really tough.
Gradually I gained Jennifer’s confidence and she began trying to say more words. It took every ounce of patience I had. Her speech never became perfect but it was enough to give her a start. Over the next 20 months (I had most of the struggling students for a second year) Jennifer made amazing progress. At first she could only speak a word or two that she wanted to write in her journal. I would actually have to write the words for her in her book and she would trace over them. Then it became phrases and finally whole sentences. Her reading began to improve, her spelling improved, her speaking improved and her confidence soared.
Jennifer and her family moved to another town towards the end of the second year in my class. Just before she left Jennifer wrote a journal entry about an event in her family. She wrote, without any help, a whole page. That was her Everest – and she scaled it. But wait – there’s more! Not only did she write that unassisted, it was in beautiful handwriting, with only three or four small spelling errors. It was correctly punctuated with sentence structures that would put to shame some blog entries I have read.
Is that all? No – she then asked to read her writing aloud using a microphone at a school assembly! And she did it!
Do think I was proud of her? You’d better believe it!
It still brings a tear to my eyes when I think about it.
Update March 2017: some time ago I found out that she has graduated from high school and has successfully completed a TAFE course. Wow.