When I left Wallins Elementary School on the evening of Dec. 11 in order to get to Danville for total knee replacement surgery the next morning of Dec. 12, I had no idea that I would not be returning. I thought I’d have plenty of recovery time through my own sick days, the holidays, and any days that others donated. I expected to be back in my classroom by Feb. 1. Things just haven’t worked out that way.
I don’t understand the policy that will give a temporary medical leave for six months to someone who has been working 10, 15, 20 or even 25 years, but will not honor a teacher who has been working 29.5 years because they’ve been working too many years. It seems unfair, discriminatory and unjust. Nothing personal — just policy.
Not being eligible for this consideration and having run out of sick days, I had no other course of action known to me than to go ahead and retire. My paperwork is in the mail to Frankfort as I type. Getting everything in order and back and forth between me and the county board has been a challenge because I still cannot get out of my house or drive myself anywhere. I have had to rely on the goodness and mercy of friends and family. I pray that everything necessary is in place before Feb. 1. That is mandatory in order to retire by March 1.
This is not how I had planned to end my teaching career. It is not how I planned anything. We are in the middle of a project that hasn’t been published. I loved my students and was so pleased with how far they had come in the language arts, science and arts and humanities classes that I had taught this year. I left with lesson plans in place until Feb. 1, and a wonderful substitute teacher, but I truly thought I would get to go back and finish what I had started.
I had hoped to be able to retire at the end of my 30th year in May, but had realistically thought I would be teaching another three years until I had my house paid off completely. The other alternatives were to write a best-selling novel, win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, or meet and fall in love and marry an amazing, godly man. Working on those three years seemed like the most likely of those options.
Once I know for sure that all of my paperwork is in order and I am officially retired from the Harlan County Public School System, I will probably have another round of tears. The uncertainty and bewilderment will be behind me at that point. Looking back does no good, but had I known things would turn out this way I might have tried to work through excruciating pain another few months and had the surgery in the summer. Every day and every night of my life were wrapped in pain since I was knocked down accidentally by students on the stairwell on May 2, 2011. The pain was only getting worse. I was walking with a cane and the next step was surgery or a wheelchair.
Since I cannot change the past and looking back does absolutely no good, I am trying to keep a positive frame of mind for the future. This is the end of a phase of my life that I have loved doing. I loved being a teacher. I loved my students. I loved my school. I have been so proud of our students and the good work and wonderful service learning projects they have completed over the years. I wanted to part on my own terms when I was ready. I wanted to get the coal mining book project of Mountain Mysteries V: In the Deep Dark Hills in print and out to the community this year.
But it’s time to look to the future. People have constantly reminded me that God never closes a door without opening another one. I kind of feel like a young person after high school or college graduation. Once you have that paper in your hand, where do you go? What do you do?
My surgeon said that he usually never had a conversation with any patient about when can I go back to work. He said that by the time a knee was in the shape mine was in, the person was usually much older, retired, and going back to work was not on their list of things to do. It was his medical conclusions that set things in stone. I saw him in Danville last week. He said I could not go back to work for absolutely no less than three months, but he thought it should be six, and if he absolutely had his say, I would not return to any type of work until next year.
I had prayed that God would let me know in no uncertain terms what I needed to do based on what the doctor told me. That conversation made it pretty clear. There was no room left in my timeline of work and sick days to do as he said. I couldn’t afford to risk going back on the job when I was not physically able and risk being injured again with the leg still healing.
My hope in the future is that God still has a plan for me, for my life to be useful and full. As much as this might all have taken me by surprise, none of it took Him off guard. I am believing that my latter days will be more blessed than my former days. I’m trusting that my life is still full of purpose, ministry, and opportunity. I do not know what tomorrow holds, but I absolutely know Who holds all of my tomorrows.
I may shed more tears along the way as all of this gets sorted out. One chapter is ending, but another one is just beginning. I hope in the future my tears will be full of joy that I cannot contain.