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Essay: School's out, but the bell still rings

School's out forever: teachers Jim Lauter with Barbara

School's out forever: teachers Jim Lauter with Barbara Denis, center, and Suzanne Proimos. The three retirees from the Flower Hill Primary School in Huntington gathered for lunch in November. Credit: Jim Lauter

One day in early September last year, I was sitting in a Huntington restaurant enjoying breakfast with friends. It was the first day of school, but for the first time in 30 years, I was not in a classroom. I had retired from teaching the previous June.

As I looked out the diner window, I realized I had a time-management concern. My eyes were drawn to a huge clock. It was 9:25. I turned to Barbara Denis, a fellow second-grade retiree from the Flower Hill Primary School in Huntington.

“Right now, the kids are getting off of the bus and walking into the classroom,” I said.

She smiled, took a picture of the clock with her cellphone and texted it to a third Flower Hill second-grade retiree, Suzanne Proimos.

I thought to myself, “It’s 9:25! Do you know where your students are?”

When the three of us retired together the previous June, we wore T-shirts I ordered with the words, “Retirement! It’s about time!”

For the rest of the year, it seemed as though I had an internal school bell ringing as a reminder of significant events throughout the day:

11:25: lunchtime!

3:25: Wow! Time for dismissal already?

All year, I found myself nostalgic for events on the school calendar. Barbara or Suzanne would announce in a text, “Tomorrow is Harvest Day!”

Or I’d let them know, “I’m going to miss the sing-a-long hayride!”

Other occasions elicited a different reaction, one of a great burden having been lifted.

“Report cards are due tomorrow!” was one text sent to me, accompanied by a large smile emoji.

“No report cards! No regrets!” I said to myself, quite relieved.

Perhaps that’s why some of my colleagues insist that the two best things about retirement are Sunday nights and Monday mornings.

However, while I don’t miss 8 a.m. staff meetings on a Monday, I do still miss those “Eureka!” moments when a student smiles broadly with the satisfaction of having understood a new concept — perhaps that two-fourths and one-half are the same. “I get it!” they’d shout.

Retirement didn’t mean a complete break from school, though. In June, I put on my popular SpongeBob necktie for Flower Hill’s “moving up” ceremony in the gymnasium, which was adorned with colorful balloons and Class of 2019 decorations.

As Suzanne watched the excited third-grade graduates step up to receive their certificates, she confessed, “I feel a bit melancholy.”

Barbara and I agreed. The students beamed with pride as their happy families looked on, photographing the special moments. The three of us felt fortunate to have been able to witness this occasion, even though we’d been retired for almost a year.

Finally, I joined staff members as they waved goodbye to kids on the school buses.

There were tears in the eyes of young and old. A successful school year had concluded, and many were planning for a relaxing summer with the same thought: It’s about time!

 Reader Jim Lauter lives in Huntington.