Farewell to Teaching

Carol A. Hand

This post is a farewell to a vocation I have loved – teaching. I awoke this morning with a clear answer to a question I have been pondering for several weeks, “Should I resign from teaching, perhaps this time with no intention of ever returning?”

Yes, it’s time. Although I love working with students, the context of teaching at the post high school level has increasingly provided too little space for liberatory praxis.

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Photo Credit: Graduate Celebration – 2009

It’s the structure of education, not the students, that has been the determining factor for my decision. During my brief time as an adjunct for a private college, I have witnessed the transformation of a program originally based on emphasizing critical thinking and experiential learning based on social justice to a “feeder” program preparing students for a clinical master’s degree. The transition didn’t occur over night, but it’s clear that soon textbooks and assignments will be dictated to conform to this new “mission” in order to better dressage students to accept a deficit-focused medical model designed to medicate or imprison those on the margins. It’s a mission shared by an increasing number of social work programs, making me remember my reluctance to enter this discipline when I returned to college many decades ago.

How will this focus do anything to help the residents in Detroit who are without water or sewer service because of dehumanizing corporate forces outside of their control? How will it end the outrageous killing of Palestinians while the world watches from the sidelines? How will it help us address the threat of climate change and corporate domination? My answer is that for me, clinical practice represents yet another means of oppressive social control. How will my decision to stop teaching change any of these seemingly complex, insoluble, immobilizing forces at play in the world today? Maybe it won’t. But betraying one’s values and principles teaches something as well.

“My role in the world is not simply that of someone who registers what occurs, but of someone who has input into what happens… No one can be in the world, with the world, and with others and maintain a position of neutrality. I cannot be in the world, simply observing life…. It is not by resignation but by the capacity for indignation in the face of injustice that we are affirmed…. Transformation of the world implies a dialectic between the two actions: denouncing the process of dehumanization and announcing the dream of a new society.” (Paulo Freire, 1998, Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, pp. 73-74)

I ask “What do my colleagues love to do?” I honestly don’t know because it’s not a subject we speak about. But I can answer this question for myself. I love to teach because it gives me an opportunity to keep learning, and “teaching” has taught me more than all of the textbooks I have read, and I have read too many as my ever-worsening eyesight has frequently reminded me throughout the years. Yet even without teaching, I know I will have many opportunities to continue gaining knowledge, and if I continue to live by ethical principles, there is also the chance to gain wisdom.

To all of the students I have worked with, I say miigwetch (Ojibwe thank you). I have learned so much from each and everyone one of you. Maya Angelou eloquently conveys the most important of lessons I hope we shared with each other.

“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
This entry was posted in Challenging the Status Quo and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Farewell to Teaching

  1. ShirleyAnn says:

    I welcome you to a world full of places to explore and new things to learn. Hoping now to see you often in your “happy garden”.

    Like

    • carolahand says:

      I am looking forward to having more time and freedom to explore, and now that I know your skills as a photographer, Shirley Ann, perhaps we can explore and record the wonders of Duluth together 🙂

      Also, one of my neighbors gave me a small bench — so you will have a place to sit when you visit my garden.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You teach me something every time I read one of your posts. And though you are reluctant, I still think you should consider writing a book or two. That way you teach millions, and you have so much to share. Interestingly, I’ve been questioning my day job. Working in a health system that is broke. But, I have to define another way of making a living and that is my challenge I’m working on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolahand says:

      I am not surprised to hear that we often struggle with similar issues, Skywalker. I am considering writing — thank you for your kind encouragement. I will need to see if I can rekindle my inspiration. This summer I have had so little time to do anything other than prep for class, watch my granddaughter, and try to take care of my yard in-between storms that left more tree limbs to clean up. It’s not the work that makes me feel weary, it’s the state of the world and the growing incongruity I feel between what I hope to inspire students to consider and the mission of the college where I have taught. I know I need some quiet time to reflect and reenergize.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. smilecalm says:

    the teacher is gone!
    long live
    the compassionate teacher 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. mandy says:

    One thing I know for sure, Carol? You will never stop teaching. Ever. This I know 🙂 I don’t know if I told you I added you to my Heroes In My Garden page. You make such a significant impact in the world, and you have on me, too. It’s not much, just my small way of saying thank you ❤ http://healingbeyondsurvival.wordpress.com/my-heros/

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolahand says:

      Thank you so much for your kindness, Mandy. I visited the link to your Garden Page and was absolutely awed by your loving creativity and deeply honored to be listed.

      You are a teacher as well, Mandy, and from the comments from followers on your garden page, it’s clear you have made a significant impact on the lives of many others as well. Thank you 🙂

      Like

      • mandy says:

        My heart is swelling with love, there is a lump in my throat and I’m just so very glad to have a link to someone I can learn from. I’ve been caught up in survival mode for so very long–I can’t wait to move on to reaching out to the larger world, see what’s going on and get busy. I learn about the issues from reading your posts–I’m so far behind. Thank you again, Carol.

        Liked by 2 people

        • carolahand says:

          Your struggles have demonstrated your courage and resilience, Mandy, and helped hone your incredible depth, kindness, and compassion. These are priceless gifts that help make the world a better place.

          Like

  5. I am actually looking to breaking into adjunct teaching.. Good issues to look out for.

    Like

  6. This news saddens me, but I completely understand your reasoning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolahand says:

      It saddens me, too, Robert. I had hoped the satellite campus I taught at would be spared from the new forces of colonization, but alas it has not been. Making the decision has already helped me begin reflecting on what to do next.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sure your students and colleagues will miss you, but it seems you are making an important transition to the next phase of your “career” (the larger sense of the word). I know you will continue to do great things with your blog and beyond … best wishes to you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Carol…As you know, authentic teaching transcends space (the classroom) and time (the academic calendar). I have no doubt you will find students to share your wisdom and experience with wherever you go. Looking forward to hearing about this next phase of your educational journey.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Silvia TIC says:

    Hi Carola,
    It is sad to leave something you love so much and where you seem to have impacted lots of people. In my own career paths (I was also a teacher, before coming to Canada) I have already experienced what you share here in your post: the systems seem to be created to discriminate those who don’t “fit” and label them as different. I got tired of seeing highly intelligent and sensitive kids medicated or going through the hands of special needs support, just because they react to a system that wants them square and compliant. On the top of that, is the feeling of feeding, or being accomplice of an oppressive and corrupt model.
    I have also flirted with the idea of abandoning my current job and dedicating my time to things I consider more important at this moment in time. But I have been unable to make the transition: there are still many bills to pay and mouths to feed.
    I honesty hope you can continue making a difference on the lives of those you touch. Once a teacher, always a teacher (and a learner)…we all are both, if we only take the time to listen and care long enough for each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolahand says:

      Your experiences and insights about how the educational system is set up to foster conformity are so important, Sylvia. Thank you for sharing them! My attempts to make systems more inclusive and supportive of diversity from the lower ranks on the inside of systems have sometimes helped individuals, but rarely had an impact on the overall policies and climate. And as you observe, this gradually makes one feel like a collaborator in the oppression of those who “are highly intelligent and sensitive…”

      Your work, both paid and “volunteer,” helps so many people, but I can relate to preferring the freedom to be able to earn a living doing what in future-oriented and inspiring. Yet being a parent does often mean focusing on tending to what needs to be done as best as one can.

      Thank you also for your encouraging words. Letting go of the past is the first step in a new direction, and being able to do so in a way that was both honest and respectful of other people does give me a feeling that my decision was the right one for everyone concerned. I am ready for another new adventure…

      Like

  10. Thank you for helping transform the world Carol. Both the quotes – by Paola Freire and Maya Angelo, are such powerful testaments.. You so en-courage…. the “lessons we shared with each other.” To denounce the process, this cannot be easy, though so too do you announce a new dream. You bare witness.

    Like

    • carolahand says:

      I so appreciate your thoughtful, eloquent comments, Bruce. As you well know, living on the margins is not always easy, but it does make life more interesting and meaningful 🙂

      Like

  11. nicciattfield says:

    Hi Carol, I know the systemic divide between you and your college has been something you have pondered for a while now. I think it’s really sad for your students that they are going to lose you. At the same time, I think if we are to do work lead by our own heart and our intuitions, and work that feels right, then that is the only path to follow.

    I wish you well, Carol, and I am so sure that new doors will open for you, in whichever way feels more right.

    BTW, there is an article in the London Times which speaks to yours on common ground – one which speaks of colonial responsibility for divides in areas like the middle east and Pakistan, and the need for the British Imperialists to take responsibility for a history of divisions. I shall scan it for you.

    Like

    • carolahand says:

      Hi Nicci, I always appreciate your comments and look forward to reading the article. My decision will give me more time to read something other than textbooks and student papers, and your thesis and Skywalker’s book are at the top of the list. Miigwetch for your thoughtful and affirming responses.

      Like

  12. desilef says:

    Carol, you will always teach by wisdom and by example. But please, yes, do write the book. Much of it is surely already written right here in your blog posts. There’s an explosion coming and youth will need guideposts to find the right path.

    Like

    • carolahand says:

      Diane, thank you so much for your encouragement and affirming comments, and your reminder that the work we share is what counts.

      During times of transition, it’s too easy for me to become immobilized by self-doubt. Did I make the right decision? Do I have anything of importance to say to others? Where do I start exploring possible publishers?

      You have helped me remember sharing what we have learned is not about ego, it’s about doing what we can because we care about others and the future 🙂

      Like

  13. dolphin says:

    Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    I hope that you will keep the door open to teaching. We need teachers that care about what they’re teaching their students and aren’t just there for the paycheck.
    I was dismayed when I started my college career at 34–the classes were mostly lectures with very little debate or exchange of ideas and viewpoints. Those open discussions expand an education beyond the confines of a textbook. In the few classes I had where debates were allowed, i found it thought-provoking for both sides.

    Like

  14. My mother, who was an exceptional teacher, made the difficult decision to leave the profession after 17 years. She was a very acute observer of what her students needed and how to meet those needs – but the school administration had a very different view than she did of the role her her school in her students’ lives. For them, it was all about social control.

    Throughout my career, I worked with many superb teachers who were squeezed out in this way – at great lost to public education.

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolahand says:

      It sounds a though your mother was an astute observer of both children’s needs and administrators’ real agenda, Stuart. It’s disheartening to hear that this has been going on for generations, although it does seem to be getting much worse. In every field it seems as though practitioners who are guided by critical thinking and innovation based on compassion are “squeezed out” of hierarchically organized institutions where the real agenda is social control.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. C.Miller says:

    What do you say to the most intelligent little teacher, that I have ever had the pleasure to learn from? Well now, it most certainly will not be goodbye! Perhaps I will summon your expertise to a small Italian eatery. Where you might share some valuable personal insight over the worst rose lemonade ever. Or perhaps we can just chat about the many ways our earth is being violated for the greed of a few, while sipping something most pleasurable? Anyway you look at it “Dear Teacher”, I plan to keep you in my life as a friend. I thank you for everything as a great teacher and I look forward to being your friend. Respectfully, A Student

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolahand says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Dear Student 🙂 Perhaps we should try the Rose Lemonade again when the semester is over to see if it’s any better the second time…

      Like

  16. cindy knoke says:

    Moving on to better things! Congratulations and you are still teaching my friend. I learn every time I visit your blog~

    Like

  17. gpicone says:

    May I ask how long you were a teacher? I taught for 33 years at the HS level before I saw the entire system devolve into a business model. Perhaps it is just that I am getting older but the world does not seem as friendly as it once was. (was it ever friendly?)
    I enjoy reading your posts!

    Like

    • carolahand says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Gpicone!

      I started teaching at the public university level later in my career, and only taught full-time for 10 years, moving from university to university in an effort to find an institution that valued critical thinking, creativity, and egalitarian, dialogic teaching methods. Those experiences were enough to convince me that I didn’t fit into a banking model approach for working with students and I was not cut out to be a gatekeeper. I had hoped that working as an adjunct for a small private college would be better. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

      Your observations about the business model in education are evident at the university and college level as well. Top-heavy administrations are only interested in ever increasing the number of students and reducing faculty and staff costs by replacing credentialed tenured faculty with adjuncts.

      I think the world was more hopeful in the past, although the more I learn about history, I doubt that it was ever really kinder to people who were different or who held resources that those in power at the time coveted. It seems to me now that the deaths of JFK, RFK, and King ushered in an era without an inspiring collective vision for the future. And Reagan ushered in an era of mean-spirited disregard for those in greatest need that has become ever-more widespread. I am deeply concerned about the world my grandchildren are inheriting. Yet I also think social media has played an increasingly vital role by informing and connecting people in new ways – I am grateful for the opportunity it gives me to learn from your posts.

      Like

  18. mytiturk says:

    Dear Carola,

    So hard to comment on this news. The “Very, Very Few,” well represented by their ubiquitous kept politicians and their corporate input at private G8 and G20 meetings, intend to make commodities of equal powerlessness out of common people even in the so-called democratic “first world.”

    We, the hapless 99.9999 % in the “privileged countries,” have benefitted for a century – via the now-decimated labour movement that grew the middle class – from the exploitation of the poor everywhere else on the planet. We average first-worlders are now in the process of becoming part of the global poor as our middle class continues to waste away.

    During the Twentieth Century a small number of us actually noticed how the growth of our middle class depended on wealth amassed from toxic gold mines in Central and South America (or British Columbia…) or from the “cheap” food grown elsewhere on land simply taken from the poor and converted from Growing Many Things Together On Healthy Land into Growing One Thing With Patented Seeds In Dead Soil. The list of unsustainable things done for short-term gain is legion; I named only two.

    A smaller subset of those who noticed have been writing, speaking, marching and, yes, educating others – to notice and become agents for change.

    I mention three people here worth studying and helping: Vandana Shiva (The Seed Lady), Naomi Klein and the venerable Noam Chomsky, who opened my political eyes in the mid-eighties when I first read him.

    My initial hesitation to comment is because I understand the value that you put into what you did in teaching future social workers and how hard it was to make this decision. One of my daughters is a social worker. I hope that you will find a way to keep working for justice and peace or that, at least, you will find your own, personal peace. I still find the big problems growing in hopelessness. Thinking about them makes me increasingly angry. My posts on politics help me dilute that anger. Healthier than letting it simmer. Damage control might be a good term.

    I retired after only14 years as a chemistry/guitar HS teacher in 2007 at 62. Since 2009 I have been focusing on helping where my talents can be most effective. I now focus my musical volunteer work mainly on cheering up those who are suffering. The work is not political. It has the humble effect of a butterfly’s wing on “changing the world.” It has a much more profound effect on changing me or, at least, keeping me going…

    Like

    • carolahand says:

      Thank you for your thought-provoking comments, Bob. After writing my two-sentence resignation letter to the college where I was teaching, I felt an intense sense of relief. I did take my job seriously – trying to encourage students to think critically about the “bigger picture” you describe, nurture hope that they could make a difference, and develop the skills needed to work toward change. I realize I no longer have hope that this increasingly oppressive system can be changed – it needs to be challenged and replaced. But where does one begin such a daunting task?

      The only answer I can come up with at the moment is to follow a path similar to the one you describe – to reach out on the most modest level in my community. I have been creating gardens in my front yard for the 3 summers I’ve lived here. People stop by to talk when I’m working, and I am able to share food with the ever-changing families that rent the house next door or elders who live in the high rise apartment building across the street (10 stories high in my neighborhood 🙂 ). In the process, I am able to listen to the challenges they face and share the little sanctuary I have been creating. Even the postal carriers comment on a yard filled with gardens. Small spaces of peace and beauty created with love are, as you say so poetically, like “a butterfly’s wing on ‘changing the world’.” I remember a saying from one of the cryptograms I solve before I go to sleep – “It is no small accomplishment to change the quality of someone’s day.” And as you point out, working on my knees with my hands in the soil changes me more than anyone else.

      Thank you for your comments, Bob

      Like

      • mytiturk says:

        I really appreciated your thoughtful reply and your wisdom in the face of so much negativity. I know what you mean about gardening having a positive effect. For me that’s mostly true… Changes my focus to small things I can usually do something about. My wife is the artistic director of our projects here. I try and do the lawn care, help with procurement, “heavy lifting and photography. I pull dandelions and other weeds, preferring to have healthy soil and a safe environment to a “perfect” monoculture lawn through hostile chemistry. Occasionally I get overwhelmed. This summer common knotweed sneaked up on me and became a serious, ironically almost invisible, problem – especially in the front yard. Spent two days pulling it and know it will continue to haunt me. Starting to seed white clover into the bare spots. It is about lawn height, similar in colour and is a net, natural benefit to the lawn because it “fixes” nitrogen from the air. I’m still on a learning curve.

        Looked at your photo of your unlocked fence and it seems like you have a pretty big and beautiful area to tend. I like that you take the time to talk to passers-by. and record your wisdom here.

        Like

        • carolahand says:

          Thank you for sharing your gardening challenges and insights 🙂 . My newest challenges is a little skunk that visits every night to dig up the lawn looking for “grubs,” and ever-spreading “creeping Charlie.” Yet in the spring, this plant that smothers everything else is the first plant to bloom and provide food for bees. Dandelions, too are important bee food, and actually healthy food for people. I’ve been learning to change my definitions of what should grow where.

          I appreciate your kind and thoughtful comments, Bob.

          Liked by 1 person

  19. cthebean says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Thinkers like this are a gift. I am not sad that she will be doing other important things …. but I am sad as to why she has come to the decision to leave teaching.
    Someone commented that there is an explosion coming and that teachers like this need to be present for the young when and if that happens. I agree. I also hope we can all be present for each other so we don’t lose our way..our sense of place.

    Like

  20. susanissima says:

    May blessings abound as you ease onto your next path, Carola. I look forward to reading your
    posts along the way. ❤

    Like

  21. trotter387 says:

    Hi I have just started reading your posts and sense the value so many have gained from the wise words and support you have presented. One thing that has always stayed with me were the words of an old friend who recognised that “great teachers never stop teaching, they just change the place and the people”.

    What others are able to learn from every teacher is that fear of the future is not a reason for doing nothing.

    I will read more posts over the next few days – find the freedom, peace and pleasantness you seek, a positive for you I walked away from institutional structured education and discovered the world of life education.

    Mark

    Like

  22. tubularsock says:

    Carol, what a wonderful idea and a beautiful decision. It is called freedom. Of course, leaving the “institution-of-instruction” and leaving teaching are really two different kettles of fish.

    Tubularsock, back in the day of the 1960’s, loved teaching as well. In fact, I had so much fun doing it that it consumed my life for thirteen and a half years. It was a 24/7 joy and that was fine with me but it was the continued confrontation with the INSTITUTION that became the reason that I hung-up-my-chalk!

    Critical-thinking and knowledge for knowledge sake is what teaching and learning is all about but not for the “institution-of-instruction”. No, the “institution-of-instruction” is and has always been about CONTROL in order to create and maintain the “good-docile-citizen-worker”.

    WELL FUCK ALL THAT!

    I wish you luck with your next adventure but you won’t need it …… it will fall in your lap.

    So kick back for a bit and see which way the wind hits your sails. Life unfolds …. there is no rush.

    Congratulations!
    Tube

    Like

    • carolahand says:

      It’s so good to hear from you, Tube! It was liberating to make this decision to leave the “institution-of-instruction” – the thought of dealing with small minds and big egos in the institution just felt like such a tremendous waste of time and energy. I agree that it’s about creating “good-citizen-docile-workers” – something I’m not. Tomorrow is my last class! I’m looking forward to student presentations about the effects of climate change on vulnerable people and ideas about what we can do as united citizens to mediate and prevent harm. Then, I will celebrate the freedom from grading papers and hang up my power points :-). Thank you for your comments – they always make me smile, Tube.

      Like

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