Saying Goodbye: Meditations on Retirement

A yellow carnation corsage with text: Something for Sunday; June 23, 2019; Saying Good-ByeI’ve been a teacher forever. When I was five I went to kindergarten and fell in love with school. I remember dragging some tables, chairs, my younger sister, and several neighbor kids into my garage and setting up my own little classroom. We practiced coloring, counting, and letters. I couldn’t think of anything more fun to do on a Tuesday afternoon.

In college, I worked as an informal teaching assistant for one of my professors, and in graduate school I led a summer seminar of my own. My first official teaching position was in 1980, and I began teaching full time in 1981. I’ve had 31 wonderful years as a full-time professor in a single institution.

And now I’m done.

Saying goodbye has been a slow process. I announced my intention to retire more than a year ago, so that my department could adjust. Last fall I taught my favorite course, Cognitive Psychology, for the last timer. This past spring I taught the course I developed and have been the primary teacher for, Research Methods, for the last time. Every class meeting has been a strange experience. I’m used to finishing each time by making notes about what went well and what I want to change for next time, only now there is no next time. I said goodbye every single day for the last year.

My college said goodbye at the annual employee recognition meeting. All of us retiring this year got corsages (the photo shows the one I wore). They said some nice things and I got a set of crystal glasses. Then last week, at my department’s annual end-of-year party, they gave me a lovely print of Escher’s woodcut “Sky and Water I.” This image is appropriate on many levels. I’m a big fan of fish (I’ve posted earlier about that), and this print also illustrates the interplay of figure and ground (something I’ve also posted about before, using this same print as an example). I’m going to hang it above the desk in my work area, where I can look at it every day.

As of Friday my job was officially over. I didn’t have a lot to do that day: clean some files off my computer before they turn it over to someone else, turn in my last key, tidy the office for its new occupant. Then I drove away from campus for the last time, with a little mist in my eyes.

As much as I loved my job, I’m happy to be retiring. It’s time to move on and devote that energy to other things. Time for one last goodbye.

What goodbyes are you saying these days?

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