Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remembering Joan

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
Link up your slice on Tuesdays all year. Thanks, Stacey, TaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.

It was late at night the phone rang. Maybe it was four-thirty in the morning. I don't remember which of the mavens called me. It could have been Rosalie or Zirot or Cathy, even Mary though she taught French and not English.  We sometimes shared a cup of black coffee and a cigarette back when we all smoked. It could have been any of the smokers who called even the Russian teacher could have, would have. It doesn't matter now who, but that the caller was kind, gentle.

"We lost Joan last night, Lee Ann."

Lost her? My first thought a literal sucker punch. How do you lose a person? She might be a veteran teacher, but she's old enough to just wander off.

Turns out the caller knew right where Joan was. Her husband had found her late that evening at the bottom of their pool felled by a heart attack while no one was home. Joan was my first mentor, my supervising teacher during my senior internship.

The students I taught during my internship while under Joan's supervision were so smart I felt I needed to go back to school to be able to keep up with them (and her) --so I did. I didn't start teaching until I finished my master's degree in literature and had started on a doctorate. When Joan died, I was a third-year teacher. 

I can still remember the grim catalog I made of the contents of her desk drawers: pens, pencils, post-its, wrinkled gum wrappers, an abandoned prescription, pages ripped from magazines, underthings. I remember boxing her books--tucking a few aside to keep. I still catch glimpses of her, sharp in the margins of Hamlet or Tess. I remember cleaning out her classroom's cabinets--counting out boxes of chalk and packages of pencils, pens, paper, glue--academic ephemera. 

I don't know where we sent her students after she died. I don't remember. I remember the packing and the gathering at her home and our friends and the Tiramisu, her favorite dessert.

Recently a teacher new to our school passed away unexpectedly. We learned of his passing one Monday morning. How difficult. How terrible and wonderful this short life we live. I did not know him. Our faculty numbers above 150 teachers, our campus more than 95 acres--those sound like excuses to me now. Our collegial circles have grown smaller as departments are divided into PLCS. Teachers seem to have less contact across content areas and grade levels. I didn't know him thoughI feel for his family, his friends, his students. I didn't know him, but his passing brought me right back to Joan.


  1. News of someone's passing always brings back memories, doesn't it? It sounds like such a collegial group you had - a lovely community.

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  3. Your post made me want to take time out of my busy day tomorrow and sit down with my grade level colleagues just to chat. We're so busy these days, we don't do that as often as we used to. I miss that time.

  4. What a beautiful tribute to Joan! It's a reminder worth sharing. Life is precious. Thank you Lee Ann!!! I needed to hear this today!

  5. Like you, Lee, I also wrote about grief today, so your comments resonate with my reminiscing heart. A few years ago a math teacher in my school died suddenly; we found out when he didn't come to school, and a colleague went to his house to check on him only to find him in his bed, having passed during the night (his wife was out of town). The past two days I've been thinking quite a lot about the ways my school has changed over the years, in terms of staff, in terms of students, in terms of the facility, etc. I think about how we get caught up in the moment and tend to forget the past. But as Faulkner says, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." And this: "Yesterday won't be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago."

  6. Yes...right back you came...to where you needed to be..Every life is precious but when the person in in our "inner circle" and on our hallway, so to speak, it hurts just like a family member because we are....school family. We lost a colleague last year and the light and tone of our hallway will never be quite the same. We go on...but there is something missing.

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  8. I hear the firm connections, even when your friend is gone, and how wonderful you wrote about her, and that recent death too. We are too fast anymore, are supposed to connect, but conversations do change in the tenor of them when one doesn't find connections. Thanks Lee Ann, and hugs to you.