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Expressway: School bells will toll, but not for me

Saul Schachter cuts a cake at a goodbye

Saul Schachter cuts a cake at a goodbye party given to him by fellow teachers in June 2014 at North Shore Middle School in Glen Head. He retired then after 31 years at the school. Photo Credit: Provided by Saul Schachter

I always thought I would teach forever.

Or close to it.

I figured that on my last day on the planet, I would have a class of seventh-graders on the edge of their seats listening intently to my spellbinding description of John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts when I'd suddenly keel over and the custodial staff would be summoned to carry me out (which would be fitting because I've always liked dramatic exits).

But it was not to be.

I remained upright (much to the relief of my family) and I retired on June 27 after 35 years of teaching, the last 31 at the North Shore Middle School in Glen Head. It was a wonderful ride, but it was time to go.

It seems as if I was at North Shore forever. I grew up in the community, attended its schools, and after teaching two years elsewhere, I was hired by North Shore the day before school started -- and never left.

And I can't help but feel that many in the community have been cheering me on. I remember my first "back to school night" vividly.

After I outlined my plans for the year to parents, a 50-ish woman approached me and said, "You gave a nice talk, Saul. I'll tell your mother."

In the beginning, I was often teaching the children of my friends, and I quietly followed these youngsters' progress with interest (I felt like "Uncle Saul"). In recent years, I've taught the children of previous students. Over the decades, I've been happy to attend their bar mitzvahs, dance recitals, weddings, christenings and even a few brises.

I'm often asked how students have changed over the years. The interesting thing is, they really haven't. They are still innocent (most of them), generous, sometimes exasperating, but ultimately delightful. When I announced in late May that I was retiring, they all burst forth with suggestions.

"Mr. Schachter," said one hopeful boy, "maybe next year you could be my bus driver."

Another girl pointed out, "Now that you're retiring, you'll have more time to find a girlfriend." And a sea of 12-year-old heads nodded approvingly.

And now for the first new school year since 1979, I am not setting up a classroom, attending summer meetings or perusing student reports.

So, what will I do? Well, I will travel more. I just accompanied my mother, a vigorous 84, to Paris. In November, I am taking a cruise from Brisbane, Australia, to Papua New Guinea. And for six weeks over the winter I am renting an apartment in California where I will be among a dozen friends enjoying 60-degree (maybe 70!) temperatures away from the New York snow, sleet and ice.

And then what? I don't know. Perhaps, I will teach English in northern Thailand for a few weeks. A friend who teaches sick children has suggested I join her at Stanford Hospital near San Francisco. And I've considered working in a summer English program for refugee children in Dallas.

Who knows? Maybe in my own quiet way -- with time off for a good book and maybe some piano lessons (I've always wanted to learn) -- I WILL teach forever.

Or perhaps I'll drive that school bus. The possibilities are endless!