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Changes mean letting go, facing new adventures

Aug. 01, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." -- Anatole France

I am walking toward the edge of Grandfather Mountain. Fear begins to grip my insides as I inch closer to the edge. Can I do this? Am I capable? Do I have within me the resolve to take this big leap of faith? Inhale. Exhale. Arms wide open. Leap! Spinning, soaring, sailing toward an uncertain target; yet, I feel exhilarated at the same time. I did it! I chose to do something hard.

Krthump! Arg! Feel air sharply, quickly leaving my lungs. Has the wind been knocked out of me? Eyes bleary, not wanting to open. Pop one open, then the other. Phew! It was only a dream. One of our cats had jumped on my belly as I slept. I was safe and sound in my own bed -- no such vault had occurred. Or, had it?

Looking at the clock, I see I have one more hour before the alarm will ring. Better roll over, and try to wring that last little bit of sleep from the night. Even as I began drifting, falling, collapsing toward slumber once again, some part of my brain registered that the dream I had just experienced was, in fact, my mind's way of interpreting an unpredicted event in my life: changing career paths, sort of.

After teaching in public schools for 25 years, 23 of which have been in South Point, the very school system from which I graduated, I am now leaving the public sector of education and switching to a private school setting. The decision was not without great thought, prayer and much family discussion. Leaving behind the relative security of a public teacher retirement system, a supportive teacher's union as well as families, co-workers and, most importantly, students that I love, was difficult and not without tears and heartfelt emotion. Even as I write this, I feel, just like Frances' quote so eloquently stated, I am allowing part of myself to die, in order to enter a new life.

My memories of teaching in South Point are numerous, ranging from the touching to the sad, to the downright hysterical. One example of a touching memory occurred just this past school year, when my eighth-grade students throughout the last day of school, not knowing I would not be returning, kept hugging me and telling me they loved me. A few even wrote notes to me and left them on my desk. If you know anything about 14- and 15-year-olds, you understand the magnitude of their display of affection. Of course, the saddest memory I take away with me is the death of one of my kindergarten students. That was the darkest year of my career and will forever haunt me.

Choosing the most hysterical memory is quite a challenge because when you are working with kids, especially little ones, there are frequent funny moments. I suppose one of the funniest occurred when a 5-year-old boy who had never before seen a urinal, sat in it, and kept flushing it on himself because, he "ain't never seen a shower like that!"

The other kindergarten boys came running out of the bathroom on the first day of school horrified, begging for my help. By the time I got in the rest room, the little boy was thoroughly soaked! Needless to say, it was not an easy parent call to make! Thankfully, the parent, a single mom who had always taken her young boy with her to women's public restrooms, was a terrific sport about the whole occurrence, and even felt badly because she had never thought to teach her son about this basic piece of bathroom equipment. That said, I learned to explain the restroom better to my kindergarten boys from then on!

Now, as I switch gears, only slightly, I am sure I will continue to experience more interesting teaching moments. After all, kids are kids, no matter where they go to school. Instead of sharing my passion for reading and writing to only eighth-graders, I will now get to share with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Furthermore, this new job affords me the opportunity to work with an exceptional staff, equally amazing as my previous co-workers, who have contributed greatly to the character and education of my daughter and, quite honestly, our family.

Additionally, and, if I am honest, most importantly, I will be able to spend more quality time with my daughter who will be a freshman this year. Despite the fact we will not be in the same building, she will be right across the street from me, allowing us to ride to and from school together with great ease as well as the opportunity to participate more fully in her education.

Finally, being offered the privilege of teaching at St. Joseph Catholic School allows me to more fully practice my faith. Each school day begins and ends in prayer. Teachers and students attend Mass at once a week. Religious holidays are honored, celebrated and openly discussed. Teaching in a faith- and family-based education system is an opportunity I never predicted, but welcome with open arms. My family and I have decided to take a leap of faith, and put our trust in a new life journey that puts family, faith and education first. It is my sincere hope that my former colleagues and students will understand and respect this choice and, most of all, I hope they will have as many fond memories of "Ms. Hill," as I do of the South Point Local School District.

Thank you, Greenup County Schools, for giving my career its start.

Thank you even more, South Point Local Schools, for allowing me to experience 23 years of cherished teaching memories.

May we all embrace change when the moment arrives.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.