Richard Swerdlow: School's Out, For Good

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

It’s time for Richard Swerdlow to look back on more than three decades as a teacher.

When I was a kid, the last day before summer we'd burst out of school chanting, "No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks!"

I've been thinking of that rhyme this September. Because after 34 years of teaching, I have retired.

And although that rhyme has not aged well, books and pencils replaced by laptops, and not a single teacher I know the dirty look type, it feels like time to chant it again.

I’m putting down the chalk at retirement age, but lately the news has been filled with stories about record numbers of educators bailing, burnt out by the long hours and low wages. 50% of teachers quit within the first five years. After 34 years, I get it.


But I've also seen the best parts of this job - a group of kids becoming a classroom family, or running into a student years later who tells me I was his favorite teacher. For every weekend grading papers, there were joyful afternoons of basketball games or art projects or singing with students.

I saw a lot in those 34 years. Kids fleeing war-torn nations, orphaned kids in group homes, kids with terminal illnesses, kids who were homeless. And I saw kids who discovered they were artists or singers or writers that year in my classroom. I've heard from students who ended up in universities. And I've heard from students who ended up in prison. As "The King and I" pointed out:

"It's a very ancient saying,
but a true and honest thought,
that if you become a teacher
by your pupils you'll be taught."

And teach me they did. I remember my nervous first day all those years ago. And I remember every single student.

So school's out forever. No more pencils, no more books. I hope those new teachers filling classrooms this September will discover the best moments compensate for the worst parts. I'll be rooting for you. And when you retire, I hope you'll look back and realize, despite all the problems, teaching was a lifetime well-spent.

With a perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works in San Francisco.