Letting Go: A Farewell to High School Teaching


They bought me a microwave.

Do you remember your classroom management course?  You know, the one you took in college where you had to design a discipline plan, a seating chart, and a parent phone call log?

I remember mine.  I remember reading Harry Wong’s The First Days of School like it was a bible.  I remember clinging to its lessons my first year of teaching.  I remember trying to craft my “teaching persona,” which I was assured was not to be too friendly, or too close to my real personality (which was still developing–heck, I was 21).  If I just stayed cool–icy, in fact–I could prevent any misbehavior and ensure perfect lesson delivery any day of the week.

I remember well when teaching was as new and scary and overwhelming as parenthood is to me today.

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Fast forward to this school year, during which I did most of my teaching from a chair with my very swollen ankles propped up in front of me (very professional).  There were no filters–I shared so much of myself with my students–how I was feeling, what I was reading, how my writing was going.  I was vulnerable.  I cried.  I accepted their gifts.  I met them for coffee to talk about books.  I laughed with my students when they made jokes, cried with them when they wrote powerful stories, and celebrated with them when they achieved their reading and writing goals.  Our classroom was loud and chaotic and full of love.

I don’t know if Harry Wong is alive, but if he’s not, he’s definitely doing somersaults in his grave.

The old-school style of classroom management fits this definition:

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It’s all about control and discipline.  Desks in rows, students forward, no talking, just listening–the classic I teach, you learn method.  “Gotcha” is prevalent as pop quizzes, and cell phone confiscation, and standardization abound.  Harry Wong loves this.

In contrast, in a workshop classroom, “classroom management” is more in line with the business field’s definition of the word management:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 5.41.38 PM


They bought me a milkshake.

It’s a group endeavor to make the days run as smoothly as possible so we can accomplish our goals and objectives–namely, becoming lifelong readers and writers.  You want to make a joke?  Cool, go for it.  It builds community–a community of readers and writers.  A kid who feels comfortable joking feels comfortable recommending a book.  A kid who feels comfortable making suggestions feels comfortable making mistakes, too.

And so we have structures and routines in place–start with reading, then do some notebook work, revise and tinker, then consider a mini-lesson, then move into workshop.  It’s never quiet; there is a lot of talk in all of those parts of our routine.  The desks are in pods, not rows.  I learn with my kids and from them–I don’t “teach at” them.

The evolution of my first classroom to my last required a paradigm shift, some confidence, and most importantly, the release of control.

I’m thinking a lot about this as I navigate new parenthood, desperately seeking a playbook, wishing someone could just give me a pamphlet of answers.  But that’s not going to happen and I’ve got to just relax and know that if I keep the right structures in place–feed the baby, change the baby, love the baby–things will come together.

It’s the same with a workshop classroom.  When the teacher can let go of control, her students can flourish.

I’m so glad that as each year went by, I gradually let more go.  Teaching became learning, and my classroom became so much more authentic as a result.  I released more and more control.

Now it’s time to let go entirely.

And so, nine classrooms after my first, I’ll clean out my desk and my cabinets and my Karnes & Noble to move on to the next great adventure.  New parenthood awaits, as does an adjunct position working with preservice teachers at our local university.  But I’m leaving high school teaching behind, for now, and it’s heartbreaking.  It was nothing like what I imagined it would be.

It was so much more.

I met some of the most amazing people in the form of my students–people I still keep in touch with and consider friends, who send me poems and notes and emails and to whom I send book recommendations and doodles and musings.  I’ll leave high school teaching with memories, microwaves, and something akin to a middle finger for whoever had the idea that learning was something neat and orderly enough to be “managed.”





15 thoughts on “Letting Go: A Farewell to High School Teaching

  1. […] I left the high school classroom last May, one of the things I was happiest to let go was grading.  (That and those damned fire […]


  2. […] been reflecting on the school year that was. Its trials, tribulations, successes, explorations, and even goodbyes (That’s four links to awesome posts, by the way. Enjoy!) And as we approached the […]


  3. Shelley Riley June 4, 2016 at 10:51 pm Reply

    I can’t even express what a positive impact you had on my son. Thank you for your truly amazing support of him and all your students. You will be one of those teachers he (we!) will never forget. Best of luck to you and congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tom Bloom June 1, 2016 at 6:36 am Reply

    Great article….The best part of moving on….is that you never leave the teaching profession. The students are as much a part of you …as you were to them…You will continue to inspire and use your skills to raise your family….and they will continue to promote your compassion and your will……..Enjoy the time with your family, it goes by so quickly…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Alan May 31, 2016 at 2:38 pm Reply

    I wonder how you will view control as you grow into into your role as a parent and Ruthie grows into her role as your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • shanakarnes June 2, 2016 at 3:43 pm Reply

      I can’t wait to find out. I predict we’ll both wrestle for it and then eventually concede that no one can have it all. 🙂


  6. Pat Delzell May 31, 2016 at 12:37 pm Reply

    You all are so lucky!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gary Anderson May 31, 2016 at 8:58 am Reply

    Every kid deserves a teacher like you, and you’re going to plant wondrous seeds in that adjunct position.

    You’re moving forward on a path you’re creating one step at a time with a great big heart as your superpower.

    Liked by 1 person

    • shanakarnes May 31, 2016 at 12:28 pm Reply

      I can’t wait, Gary. Thanks for your encouragement–I need it. This is a scary leap!


  8. Shelli Tabor May 31, 2016 at 8:30 am Reply

    Wow…great piece and great cry photo. It is amazing how those work together,especially when parenthood is in the mix. No better training ground, enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • shanakarnes May 31, 2016 at 12:27 pm Reply

      Haha, Shelli, parenthood sure is a job that teaching has helped me prepare for…although nowhere near enough! 🙂 Thanks for reading!


  9. @BrainofLaura May 31, 2016 at 8:17 am Reply

    Great piece! My mom took ten years off from teaching to raise my siblings and myself and she always said it was the best ten years of her life:).

    Liked by 1 person

    • shanakarnes May 31, 2016 at 12:26 pm Reply

      Thanks, Laura! I hope these next few years are my favorite, too! 🙂


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