My first thoughts were this is a joke right? Followed by WTF -not abbreviated. Then, the Union will protect us. Yeah, no. It wasn’t a joke, the WTF was right and no, the Union did not protect us. So 2 years away from retirement I was being laid off from the mentoring position I’d held for the past 7 years, one of 14 elite, well-trained, experienced educators who mentored first-year teachers during their very rough and tumble rookie season. I would have a job somewhere, yes, but it was up to me to find it. WTF indeed. So I went back to my roots.

“Jerry. I’ve got 2 years before I retire. You’re right behind me aren’t you?”

I chatted with my old teacher friend, now the principal of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. I was fishing to see if he had any openings although I’m not quite sure what I was fishing for. I hadn’t been a classroom Teacher of the Deaf in over 25 years. My specialty was Hard of Hearing kids who were mainstreamed. I knew there were pockets of these kids all over the city but I wasn’t sure there was an opening. Out of the corner of my eye I caught Maritza.

“What itinerant mainstream position?” I asked. Even with my rusty ASL I had understood what she’d signed to Jerry. And with that I’d gotten a new job.

“Hi, I’m Liz. Thanks for letting me shadow you today.” Deb was an experienced Itinerant and my de facto mentor in my new job. The mentor had become the mentee. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that.

“I have to leave at 2 today,” she said. “My son Matt has hockey practice.”

“My son played hockey in high school and college Deb. I remember those days. God it runs your life”. And with that Deb and I bonded. And then Amanda and Alyse. They were young but they knew so much and they didn’t seem to mind my million questions. I was on a new team! Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!!

It’s hard to be new at something after being the expert for so long. But I’ve always liked learning new stuff. I like being in a cohort. I’ve always made friends easily. It helps being an extrovert with pretty good social skills. So for the next 2 years I traveled around my beloved Boston, traffic be damned, meeting and collaborating with many teachers who were desperate to learn how to teach this one kid with hearing loss in their classrooms. Oh and the kids..the kids! -I ’d forgotten how much I loved teaching. One high school girl, Symone, swore she’d never had anyone have her back as much as I did… there was life in the old girl still!

Adulting can be a challenge at any age. At 60 I had to learn new skills, new pedagogy and technology. I cried a few times. And then… I grew to love it. That closed door/open window analogy didn’t come from nowhere. I was lucky and blessed enough to stick my head out and find a new chapter. And I knew enough to embrace it.

Liz Kurkjian-Henry
November 11, 2020

2020 post script: I am not immune to the knowledge that to have landed so successfully after this career twist is a reflection of my education and privilege. Many are not so lucky by the sheer accident of birth. I am also grateful that I am not teaching in this remote/hybrid/Zoom environment.

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