Why Was This Teacher Doing The Funky Chicken On 116th Street in Harlem?

I sent out the following tongue-in-cheek email to my family and a few friends on my last day of teaching:

Did you hear about the disturbance that took place in Harlem at 11:45am today? Apparently there was this teacher dancing down the streets in celebration. He walked out of the rear door of his school and strolled up 115th St. When he got to the avenue they say he went 80’s style and began doing the cabbage patch [dance] between 115th and 116th St. Then he took it really old school and did the funky chicken [dance]  between 116th and 117th St. Mind you, this was after he moonwalked across the wide intersection at 116th St. Next thing you know, when [this teacher] got to the corner of 117th St. he began hopping up and down and shouting:

“Free at last!”

“Free at last!”

 “After many years of hard work, I am free at last!”

I wonder why he was so happy?

Truth be told, I walked out the back door with my headphones on listening to To Sir With Love. As I walked up 115th St., I cried, overwhelmed by a variety of sensations. There was, of course, joy that I’d accomplished my mission of thirteen years. But there was also relief that I’d made it through a most challenging year, both in terms of students and work environment. But, I don’t want to dwell on those unhappy details just now.

I looked forward that June day to upcoming days of travel, exercise and relaxation. I’ve embarked on each of these. Yet as the new school year has arrived, I find myself reflecting once more, ruminating upon what I will miss and what I won’t.

Quite honestly, I won’t miss one bit poor student behaviors. I believe as well that I’ve made it clear in my last article that I won’t miss writing lesson plans. But I will miss helping students who want to improve personally, academically, and emotionally. I’ll miss helping kids navigate their way through life who truly want to move forward in a positive fashion.

I will dearly miss the camaraderie of my former colleagues – teachers and school support staff. Retirement can be isolating at times. I will miss the way we supported and encouraged each other on a daily basis. I take comfort in knowing that this devotion to each other and to what we do is still taking place without my participation.

I sincerely will miss sharing stories with my students, interesting historical stories as well as a personal journey or two that I’ve undertaken in life.

I’ll miss the looks of disbelief when I share with my students some of history’s ironic moments.  For example, the looks of astonishment when I tell our kids about how John Adams and Thomas Jefferson –- friends, who became rivals, and towards the end of their lives became friends again –- died on the very same day, July 4th, exactly 50 years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

I’ll also miss sharing the story of how Teddy Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the very same day. As a reaction to this tragedy Teddy moved to the American West to grieve his loss. It was there that many of his future beliefs and much of his political persona were shaped.

I’ll especially miss sharing with my students the story of the couple in love who wanted to marry, but the laws in their state forbid their union. She was Black and he was White. They married anyway and were sent to jail for a time. They appealed their case all the way to The U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that mixed-race marriage was Constitutional. I will miss the irony in my students’ faces when I tell them that the name of this landmark court case about two people who were simply in love is known as Loving v. Virginia – the couple’s surname actually being “Loving.”

My former students –- who are almost exclusively students of color –-  sadly have met with racism and discrimination in their young lives. Yet they know that I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and want to know about the unjust dynamic I experienced. I would share episodes from my childhood, college years, and in the workplace. For example, they all know about being stopped by the police while simply walking and talking while Black or Brown. 

On that note about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, every year the students attempt to guess my exact age. I’d keep it a secret from them for fun. I would tell them that they’ll find out when they graduate. On graduation day if they remember to ask me I tell them (after they guess first, of course). Once the secret is out though, it goes back on lockdown. No graduating student has ever told a current student the answer,

“We had to wait to find out, now you have to wait!”

In complete honesty, one more thing that I will miss is the M-O-N-E-Y. I’m so cheap I’ll try to squeeze the eagle off of a dollar before I’ll spend it. My retirement will be quite comfortable, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m going to miss those extra Benjamins that come with a paycheck. 

But as I’ve written before, I’m just bone-tired. Money isn’t everything and I’m enjoying the current chapter of life.

What do you think?

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