Column: A different start to the school year for retired educator


HIGHGATE GREENS — The weeks before Labor Day seemed the same for two thirds of my life. I barely finished a summer of doctors’ appointments, novel reading, classroom decorating and recertification classes in time to start a new school year. 

I was a part of Virginia Beach schools for 33 years – as a teacher and a parent. For the first time since college, I am no longer affiliated in any way with teaching.

I never wanted to do anything but teach. 

Each August, I raced to get into my newly waxed classroom ready and set up my desks and chairs. I put colorful, carefully hand-printed name tags on the students’ desks. I sat on my high stool in front of the room and memorized each student’s spot so I could quickly learn his or her name. 

I watched many colleagues wait too long to retire. 

Younger teachers at meetings would attempt to sit patiently while waiting for those who could not log into email, figure out electronic gradebooks or program classroom phones. I sadly witnessed friends who eventually struggled to remember their students’ names.

I prided myself on knowing when my time had come. I planned to leave before students equated me with their grandparents. I made the decision to retire last June after actually becoming a grandparent. 

I cried – bawled uncontrollably, actually – on the last day of school. 

I sat on my high stool in the front of my classroom. I stared at the empty desks and chairs. I tried to imagine someone else sitting on my special stool, reading to the class, making history and grammar enjoyable. 

The stool was one of the few things I brought home. 

I second-guessed my retirement all summer. I even looked online to scope out the teaching openings. I knew I could take my stool and start over. 

However, I realized over the past few weeks that my time has indeed come. 

The newest trend in teaching is called flexible seating. My friends on social media are touting – even begging for – flexible seating. The objective is to replace regular desks and chairs with a random assortment of seating options for students. 

A classroom with beanbag chairs, yoga mats, overturned buckets, pillows, crates, exercise balls, even beach towels is considered ahead of the curve.

Desks and chairs are gone. Additionally, table legs are removed or shortened so teachers and students can sit on the floor for small group learning. In lieu of desks, clipboards and stand up counters are used for writing. Supposedly, there are studies that show sitting at a desk and chair has a negative effect on one’s brain compared to completing long division on a clipboard while rolling around on an exercise ball. 

I have seen many changes in education in my thirty-three years. Cursive became passé. Spelling is no longer taught as its own subject. Phonics went away for a few years then came back. There have been new superintendents, theories and standardized tests. 

Flexibility is the key to good teaching. I love kids. I love helping them learn.

I have no desire to teach at a sawed-off table while sitting on the floor. 

I may cry a little on the first day of school this year. But I will also sit at my kitchen chair, complete the crossword puzzle while leaning on the table and decide the fate of my high stool. 

Lauren Calcutt recently retired after teaching for 33 years in Virginia Beach schools. 

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