Tag Archives: new school year

Transformation

It’s that time of year again… the summer is drawing to a close, with everyone taking their last trips down the shore, enjoying the joys that summer always brings, while preparing excitedly for a brand new school year.

At this time every year, I like to reflect upon how insanely different my life (and my attitude) is since MS made the decision for me to retire on disability in May, 2014, after already being on sick leave for all but the first four weeks of the school year.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine my life without the career that had defined me in so many ways, and that I was so passionate about. I considered myself beyond lucky to have a job that I loved, because so many people are not as fortunate. People often told me that I was one of the few people they knew who actually liked her job. And I did. Every damn second of it.

Now that I am a few years removed from the feeling of such a devastating loss for me, I have clarity that I didn’t have before, and gratitude for everything, including the painful, emotional, difficult situation that started me on this part of my journey. I never dreamed that I could ever be in this beautiful place that I currently find myself in, happier than ever, which I could not have imagined when I was still working.

The other day, a Staples commercial came on TV advertising their usual 10 cent sale, and I was brought back to the days when I used to have lists of which retail establishment had things on sale that I needed for my classroom so that I could stock up for the year. I used to get so excited about these things, and now it hardly even phases me. I love that because it shows how much I have grown during the last couple of years.

I’m not saying that I got here without my share of growing pains, but I am saying that I understand it’s all a part of the process. Once I opened myself up to the possibilities of creating a new life, it changed my perception of everything I knew.

What I know now is that regardless of how much I loved my students (and still do!), my own family always needs to come first. I often lost sight of that as a teacher, but I don’t regret it because now I have all of these amazing young adults who make up such a big part of my life, and I love that. I love watching them venture out on their own, doing the adult thing, and spreading their wings to soar.

I also know that taking care of myself is vitally important. When I was working, I overlooked my own wellness in favor of my job and my students. Again, I don’t regret it because of the amount of love and gratitude they gave back to me (and still do), but I know that I am of no good use to anyone if I am not staying on top of my own health and wellness. This includes all the things I have incorporated into my post-teacher life: meditation, yoga, hardcore exercise, acupuncture, reiki, and healthy eating, all of which force me to put myself above all others so that I can stay strong for the long haul.

I remember the days when the weekends meant nothing more than time to grade, write lesson plans, and create dynamic presentations for my classes, leaving no time to actually enjoy spending time being fully present with my loved ones. Once again, I have no regrets about how I lived my career because it’s what the kids deserved and I don’t know how to do it any other way.

But now… now life is better than I ever thought possible. My circle of friends has changed, but in a good way because I am surrounded by other people who take nothing for granted and never waste an opportunity to laugh and smile because we are grateful for the life we are living, regardless of whether we chose it or not. I am more in love with my husband than ever because we have been given this incredible gift of time together. Hell, we even booked a vacation in September, something we have never, EVER done before. Some small part of me still feels like a rebel for doing it, but no matter how much time passes, I guess old habits do, indeed, die hard. But lucky for me, I have worked very hard to help these old habits go by the wayside.

The transformation from Mrs. Rankin to Rennie has not been an easy one, but it is ongoing and I’m getting better at it all the time. I have been transforming my entire world: physically, mentally, and spiritually for the last few years, and my progress has been slow but steady, and that’s ok. I know that as human beings, one of our biggest challenges is having the ability to change according to our life circumstances, good or bad. I’m not going to lie and say that the process has been an easy one, or that I don’t have my moments of weakness, but it does get easier with time and with the determination to live my very best life possible. Rather than crying about the fact that I am not going back to work this week, I am happily wishing my former colleagues the very best of luck as they begin the new school year. Life is, after all, what we make of it, and I am making mine everything I want it to be. So who wants to join me in a glass half full of lemonade?

The sunrise over the Raritan River by Rutgers University, a very symbolic photo at a place that will always hold an extra special place in my heart.

August

It’s that time of year again. As August comes to a close, the back-to-school photos are slowly creeping in to my various news feeds. This has never been an easy time for me, whether I was full of anxiety preparing for a new school year, or even now that I am no longer working and full of nostalgia for what used to drive me. My emotions are all over the place, and even though I have come to terms with how things have worked out for me, times like this still tug at my heart strings. 

Former students have always remained a huge part of my life, when I was still working, and even to this day.

Former students have always remained a huge part of my life, when I was still working, and even to this day.

This is going to be the third opening of school since I began my disability retirement. It does seem to get easier every year, but I don’t think I will ever be un-phased by it. The first year, I went running to my daddy’s house in Florida to escape, and took myself completely off of Facebook for two weeks. I am pretty sure that I just did not want to see the world (in which I proudly resided for 15 years) go on without me. But it does. Everyone is replaceable at work. EVERYONE. And even though I thought my world would come to a halt, it most certainly has not. Quite the opposite, actually. 

I no longer spend the summer, especially August, in back-to-school mode: decorating my classroom, lesson planning, PowerPointing, re-vamping past activities, creating seating charts, photocopying, and shopping for school supplies. Yet the other day I still couldn’t turn away from a commercial advertising a 12-pack of Sharpies for $3.00! (It wouldn’t have been so bad if Bruce didn’t catch me in the act. Old habits…)

I never imagined that I could exist in a world where I wasn’t Mrs. Rankin, the teacher. My whole life revolved around my “kids” and my job. I remember feeling such intense loss and emptiness, and I felt as if my whole identity was a question mark without that one thing that had always defined me. But in these last three years, I have worked incredibly hard on figuring out who I am without what I had always considered the characteristic that most described me. 

Having been a teacher will always be the one thing I am most proud of in my life, because I was lucky enough to meet and get to know a new crop of amazing students every single year. People don’t become teachers for the salary, but the rewards are priceless. Nothing makes me happier than visiting with former students who are growing up to do unbelievable things as they find their own ways to being productive members of society. 

Three years later, I still find this time of year bittersweet. But I no longer feel like that world goes on without me, because this new world that I have been exploring is fulfilling my soul in completely different ways. For every teacher “friend” (a term used very loosely since only about three of them have proven to truly be friends) that pushed me aside as part of their past, I have been blessed with new friends who have made it clear that they are committed to be by my side in the future. 

I will always miss my students, but I will never miss the way I sacrificed so much of my life (and my energy) for my job. Life is about the loving relationships we build and maintain, and memories we make along the way. Those memories should include the people we love most, and although I loved (and still do) the thousands of students who entered my classroom through the years, I am grateful that my focus is now squarely on me. It might sound selfish, but I spent too many years focusing on others that I lost sight of the most important thing of all: taking care of number one! 

For as much as MS has taken away from me, I have been given many gifts that I never would have been given otherwise. I now appreciate and am grateful for every minute I get to spend with my loved ones, and I never take it for granted. I recognize how fortunate I am to be able to listen to my body, resting when necessary, and making it stronger by dedicating the time (that I couldn’t spare when I was working) for proper exercise. And of course, I will be forever indebted to my MS family, including the best trainer ever, for walking (or hobbling or rolling) into my life and changing it forever, in all the best ways possible. 

So even though I’ll always feel a little pang of sadness at the beginning of the school year, it does, indeed, get just a tiny bit easier as time goes by. There is a reason why things worked out this way for me, even if it isn’t blatantly clear to me at the moment. But I believe that the universe works in powerful and mysterious ways, and things unfold exactly as they should. The only thing I know for sure is that I am a happier, more balanced person now, even despite the obstacles and the circumstances that brought me here. In fact, three years ago, I would have never been able to say, with 100% sincerity, that life is pretty damn good. Today I can tell you that it’s friggin’ awesome…as long as you open your eyes and take a good look around. 

If you open your eyes (which I was always too busy to do), you will see the world a whole lot differently!

If you open your eyes (which I was always too busy to do), you will see the world a whole lot differently!

Back to School

As students and teachers everywhere head back to school, I can’t help but think about where I am at this very moment, and how far I’ve come in just one year. Last year at this time, I was devastated because everyone was going back to school without me. I couldn’t imagine not going to school every day, and without 150 new kids. As everyone I know started posting back-to-school photos of their children, I avoided social media like the plague because it was simply too painful for me. I even fled the state and spent the first week of September at my dad’s house in Florida. I couldn’t run away fast enough. 

What a difference a year makes! The biggest change in my outlook is that now I no longer think about all the things I miss about being a teacher, because I will always miss being in the classroom. Instead, I focus on the many things I have gained in my new life, most of which would never have happened if I was still working. 

I never would have pulled over to catch this view when I was still working, but now I do!

I never would have pulled over to catch this view when I was still working, but now I do!

The relationships with my “formers” has shifted, but in a good way. It’s pretty liberating for me to get to know these amazing kids without the established confines of a classroom. We still function very much in the manner of mentor/protege, but it’s more personal now. These kids make my life complete and if I had never been a teacher I would never have met them.  

Just some of the former students that make me beam with pride!

Just some of the former students that make me beam with pride!

Also since retiring, I am more grounded. I understand that there is a balance in life, and without it, nothing is enjoyable. When I was working, I was resentful that I never felt like I could take time to do fun things with loved ones, and when I was with my loved ones, I constantly thought about work. Now, I am present in every moment, and I treasure the times I spend with the people I love. I spend more quality time with my family and friends, because I give them my complete attention when we are together. 

The best reason for being fully present and savoring every moment: my nephew, Luke.

The best reason for being fully present and savoring every moment: my nephew, Luke.

When I stopped working, I made a commitment to myself. When I was still teaching, my gym time was inconsistent at best. Now I make time to exercise and take care of myself because I understand what an important role it plays in my life (present and future!), mentally as well as physically. Maintaining a schedule makes me feel good, and I know that I’m controlling what I can. 

Teachers who retire at the end of the school year often comment that it doesn’t feel real to them until September, and I agree. I’m sure you remember Jane, right? Well she is right there, right now. She has been dreaming about this moment for the past few years, and here we are. Both of us are too young to be retired, and both of us realize how lucky  we are to be here. We don’t take anything for granted, and we both worked insanely hard to be in this position. One of the best parts about being retired (even though it wasn’t on my terms) is getting to hang out with my bestie pretty much whenever I want. I remember one day over spring break when I got to spend a rare day with Jane. We didn’t do anything special or out of the ordinary, and it most definitely included a diner (and probably bacon!). But we had a great day together nonetheless.  Later on that night, we were texting and I told her what a fun day I had. She said that she did, too, and that it was good practice for the summer. I corrected her, telling her that was not just practice for the summer, but that it was practice for forever! Now that Jane is retired, I don’t think life could be more perfect. 

In one year, I have gone from my lowest point to the top of the world. The view from up here is pretty great, and I think I’m going to stay here for a while! 

Not a bad view, right?

Not a bad view, right?

A big year

As 2014 comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect back on what a huge, life-changing year it has been for me. During all my years of education, including graduate school, I did not learn nearly as much as I did in just this one year. The beauty of being a teacher in my soul is that I am also a perpetual learner. 2014 has not been about the kind of knowledge acquired from formal schooling, but rather a cognizance that has been attained through a journey of self-discovery that has included both failures and triumphs, many of which were unrecognizable without the benefit of hindsight.

The beginning of 2014 found me in a pretty low place. I had been home from school since October, and the progress I was making was hardly noticeable despite my hard work in physical and cognitive therapy. I began questioning my future, personally as well as professionally. Would things ever get back to “normal”? Would I ever be able to get back to my classroom? What would happen if I couldn’t work anymore? What will I do with myself if I’m not working? After agonizing over the possibilities, the realist in me came to the earth-shattering realization that I could no longer perform my job. I struggled with the thought of leaving my beloved school, my home away from home, with my heart breaking into pieces. My identity was so wrapped around my career as a teacher, that I wondered if I could even learn to exist without my livelihood. On February 20, 2014, I tearfully tendered my resignation and declared my intention to file for disability retirement. It was one of the most difficult days of my life, and one I’ll never forget. If 2014 had started off badly, it had gone from bad to worse.

This nearly killed me. After all my years of hard work, I was reduced to a formality at a board of education meeting.

This nearly killed me. After all my years of hard work, I was reduced to a formality at a board of education meeting.

But here’s the thing: I needed to experience that pain and sorrow in order to really appreciate the good stuff. After I made my decision to “retire”, I was finally able to concentrate 100% on me… something I had never done before. Little by little, 2014 got better and better. I fell into a groove, and looking back, the year seems to have flown by!

An amazing friend got me some very thoughtful gifts  when I was not ambulating well, early in 2014.

An amazing friend got me some very thoughtful gifts when I was not ambulating well, early in 2014.

In the last year, I have learned many valuable lessons, and I have completely changed my priorities. As much as I worried about who I would become without the “teacher” piece of me, I now know that I’m still a teacher in so many ways. Not only that, but I couldn’t get rid of that chunk of myself even if I  tried. It’s ingrained in me. It’s all in the little things that I don’t even realize I’m doing until someone points it out to me. Perhaps it’s in the way I interact with the patients when I’m at my volunteer job at the MS Center. Or it could be the way I “run” around helping my fellow MS warriors when we are in our exercise classes. Whatever the reasons, I am pretty sure that the more I acknowledge the many “teacher-ish” things I do, the less I grieve for my days as a classroom teacher.

The hardest part about not being a classroom teacher has been not being surrounded by my kids.

The hardest part about not being a classroom teacher has been not being surrounded by my kids.

In this past year, I have learned to be more patient with myself, and I don’t (always) get down on myself when I can’t accomplish what I have planned. I have learned to say no to things without feeling the need to justify my actions. I have learned that my “normal” today may be completely different than my “normal” tomorrow. I have learned (but not totally accepted) that perfection is not always possible. I have learned who my friends are, and I have learned to love them more completely. Many people search a lifetime to learn such lessons, and those are just a few on a long list for me, and in just one year.

By far, the most significant part of 2014 has been this part…right now. This is the part where I feel stronger than I have in a really long time, both physically and mentally. I owe so much of this to an amazing trainer who is passionate about exercise and MS, and a family of MS friends who have become such an important part of my life. I could easily do the exercises at home or at my gym. But the value of our exercise classes far exceeds the exercise alone. I like to think we are all in a fox hole together. We are all fighting the same war. There is an understanding between us that only we share: unfortunate that it’s MS, but (incredibly) fortunate to have each other. (Shout out to the cool kids…you know who you are!)

This is me with just some of my amazing MS family.

This is me with just some of my amazing MS family.

This was taken during the intense strength and balance class that I attend every week.

This was taken during the intense strength and balance class that I attend every week.

Although I experienced many difficult times, I’m excited as I look to 2015. I’m still not sure what’s next for me, but in the meantime I’m living in the present and enjoying every possible moment. Being able to say that is truly my biggest accomplishment of 2014, and maybe even ever.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunflowers

One of my favorite parts of this new life of mine is that I get to spend quality time with some IMG_8197of my favorite people. Eleven years ago I met an amazing woman, and I didn’t know then that she would become such an important part of my life. Liz’s son was in my class. Let’s just say that language was not exactly his strong suit, but he was adorable and sweet, and I loved him. I stayed in close contact with Liz because she would bring him to me at 6 am for “extra help”, which really consisted of doing little jobs for me (such as decorating my bulletin boards) in exchange for extra credit. This was not a usual occurrence for me because I am usually a rule girl, but there was something about this kid. He stole my heart, for sure!

My friendship with Liz started the same way it did with the very few parents of my former students, who I am lucky enough to call friends. It’s not the norm at all. But sometimes there is an instant connection that can’t be denied, especially since we are all practically the same age. It’s almost a formula: they love their children, and I love my students. Therefore, they love me because I love their children so much, and I love them for being supportive and involved. It makes perfect sense!IMG_8273

Liz is an inspiration to me every single day. She has been through the unimaginable, yet she is a pillar of strength and positivity. She also retired early and unexpectedly so our bond is definitely stronger now than before I retired. I have come to count on our weekly visits because I always feel much more grounded after we spend time together.

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Last week, we were both feeling the same way with the start of the school year. She, too, worked in the public school system so we were feeling equally empty considering that our former worlds were going on without us. We discovered several months back that we both LOVE sunflowers, and we decided to get as far away as possible by making our way to Augusta, NJ to see the Sunflower Mazes.

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It definitely was a trek! But it was worth it. If you want to know what happiness is, picture a beautiful summer day, sunflowers as far as the eye can see, and the comfort of a dear friend. It doesn’t get much better. We took a combined 400 photos, and could have taken many more.

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My biggest takeaway from the first day of school this year was the following: just because something is different, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be equally as awesome… just in a different way. As much as I was aching to be back at school like the old days, I wouldn’t have traded my day with Liz and the sunflowers for anything. I know that it’s all about appreciating the simple pleasures in life and being present in the moment. As much as I loved going back to school each year, there was not a single first day of school that stood out in my memory until this year! I am very grateful to Liz for finally giving me a first day of school that I’ll never forget.

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Seasons

Traditionally this has always been my favorite time of the year. There is nothing I love more than the cool summer nights because it’s a sign from Mother Nature that autumn is approaching. I am constantly awestruck by the beauty of the fall. I love the colors of the leaves turning. I love the crisp fall wind. I love the faint smell of fireplaces warming up chilly homes. I love the sound of the rustling leaves. I love wearing hoodies and Uggs. But most of all, I love the excitement of a new school year, because one of the greatest things about being a teacher is getting a fresh start every single year.

fall

When I was little, I eagerly prepared for the beginning of school. I carefully assembled my binder, making sure that each subject had the exact same number of loose-leaf pages. I had my pencil case stuffed to the max with every single color pen, pencils, highlighters, and whiteout. I could spend hours roaming around the school supplies aisles anywhere I went, just to make sure I had everything I could possibly need.

This excitement continued for me through my college years, and eventually through all my teaching years. I spent dollars upon dollars making sure I would have a well-stocked, beautifully decorated classroom. I spent many days prior to the contractual school year preparing my classroom so that my new batch of students would feel welcomed on day one.

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Now I’m not so sure how I feel about the fall anymore. Obviously I still love everything about this time of the year, but this year I’m feeling very nostalgic about the one piece that is missing for me. My teacher friends are in school mode, already heading to school here and there to work in their classrooms and get a jump-start on the school year. On the one hand, I ache for the days when I was anticipating the new school year. It’s a strange combination of excitement and apprehension, but I always found it exhilarating. But, on the other hand, I have this new life just waiting for me to make things happen.

I still get to enjoy the colors of the season. I still get to enjoy the fall wind. I still get to enjoy the faint smell of fireplaces. I still get to enjoy the sound of rustling leaves. I still get to enjoy wearing hoodies and Uggs. But instead of looking forward to a new school year, I am looking forward to new traditions. I firmly believe that I will love and appreciate my favorite parts of the fall even more now that I am taking the time to be fully present in the here and now. Everything seems more beautiful to me now because I am taking the time to truly embrace the simple pleasures in life. For the first time ever, I’m looking forward to spending quality time with loved ones, even though school is starting!

I am actually going to spend the first “week of school” in Florida visiting my dad, and I hope it will be a new “first week of school” tradition. Imagine that! Taking a vacation whenever I want? I feel like such a rebel!