Friday, June 3, 2016

Goodbye Mrs. Thorpe


This has been the hardest blog to write so far and the hardest knitting to finish. In fact, I wrote next week’s blog two days ago and will probably revise it tonight.

Most of this short-term disability time has felt like summer or a long Christmas break. The permanency has been pushed to the back of my head so I didn’t have to think about leaving behind a huge part of myself.

For many years, I asked students to write about their names. I wrote a demo paper describing how I am a different person when answering to each of my different names—Mrs. Thorpe, Sister Thorpe, Deb, Mom, and Debra—the “real” me.

Since I started teaching shortly after I got married, Mrs. Thorpe has always been my teaching identity. And in a society where people at the bank and the grocery store call everyone by their  first names, I am only ever called Mrs. Thorpe by students and former students. 

In my early years, I hoped that Mrs. Thorpe would grow to be the way I saw my mentors—formidable women who could silence a classroom with a look, were not afraid of parents, and told administrators how things should be done. I never got that tough, but I could usually keep things down to a mostly on-task low roar. Kids sometimes compared me with Ms Frizzle from The Magic Schoolbus.

As Mrs. Thorpe, I loved to organize and plan curriculum. I got to write the first seventh grade curriculum to go with the common core. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick was the perfect novel to start the school year because kids can understand it and the chapters are short. It also fits the required theme—Characterization. My kids studied perseverance by reading about the Civil Rights Movement and courage through the eyes of Anne Frank. There was a survival unit with a lot of Gary Paulson readings. We combined science and science fiction while studying and writing about the challenges of space travel. They finished the unit by writing well-informed argumentative papers about whether or not people should go to Mars. Best of all, I was able to check off all the boxes on all six units, make lots of cross-curricular connections, and save my weekly poetry day. Poetry Monday turned into Poetry Friday. My students and I wrote together and shared. It was more relaxed than the other days. I got the chance to walk around and talk to kids about their ideas as they got more ideas from each other.  

My written curriculum, my ideas, were very organized. My room, not so much. Naturally neat kids were always offering to straighten my pictures and sort my baskets. Every level surface was covered with piles of books, Read magazines, and worksheets. Until my health turned worse, I knew where everything was.

I was never a superstar. But I believe many students learned about the joys of reading and writing. At the very least, they will always have my September memorization poem available in their heads

I’m not sure who I will be when I leave Mrs. Thorpe behind at Union Middle (maybe in a book room). Mrs. Thorpe was my more confident self, the one who talked all day and ran the show. I’m not in charge that way in any of my other life roles. I won’t be earning my share of the living any more.I was distraught when I first had to leave. Today, the end of school dinner, will be painful. So will next August/September—the best part of every school year.

I’m very well taken care of at home and I have lots of time ahead of me to play with string, try to take better care of my husband, and help my boys finish growing up. I just don’t know if that will be enough for me.


In the crying time right before and right after leaving, I had grand and maudlin plans for my goodbye knitting piece. I was going to design a shawl called “Hearts and Teardrops.” I had a dramatic yarn choice for it too—two skeins (a whole lot) of pricey bright red lace weight yarn that I can't remember the reason for buying years ago.

I also found an option on-line, some gradient-dyed wool that I could spin and knit into a shawl that moved from black into pink. Of course, I bought it. I shouldn’t have bought it because it was in New Zealand and there is plenty of good wool here, but I didn’t even look.

Finally, I picked up a cone of silk yarn of the same brand I had worked with earlier in the spring. I knew it was nice to work with and I could use it to make a practice scarf to figure out how knitting hearts would work. The only color available that I liked was a bright blue.

Knitting hearts turned out to be hard, especially because of the “cognitive difficulties” that forced me out of work. I can’t count well or follow intricate pattern without a real struggle. I  started and pulled everything apart several times. Finally I got out two rows of hearts before giving up. In the meantime I had calmed down and so had my ambitions. I knew I wanted to finish this piece of knitting and this piece of writing and move on.

I’m planning to memorize Frost’s “The Road Not Taken, “ so I decided to use the rest of the piece to show a long, winding road.

I ran out of yarn before managing any winding and the scarf, like my teaching career, ended up much shorter than planned.

 I need to post this and get to school for the last time. I promise new, more successful knitting next week which I will try to sell you through my Etsy shop.  


  1. It is bittersweet, isn't it? Certainly not the way you thought you would end your teaching career. For me there was no retirement party, no acknowledgement by the school or district, and in fact I was fired. The "180 day rule" (if you miss 180 days of school, even with sick leave and a doctor's written letter, you are fired) means that they add up the 180 days and count weekends and summers in the total. No one tells you this. It is not included in the contract papers teachers are given, only in the district copy. I could have avoided this, if I had known, by having my doctor certify me as able to work for only one day in the summer. Then they would have to start counting the 180 days all over again. No one told me. You know all of those "retirement benefits" you were given in lieu of raises? If you are fired, you lose all of them. I learned, sadly, that no matter how hard you work, no matter your excellence as a teacher or employee, no one gives one darn about you. You are well out of it, Debra. After pouring out your heart, sweat and tears for many years, you only hope that you made a difference for some students. I think I made a difference for a few, and I am sure you made a difference, too.
    In August you will experience an intense homesickness for the beginning of the school year, new students, new challenges, the smell of fresh floor wax, the start of a new school year. There is nothing quite like this experience of being a teacher. You will miss the heady joy of seeing the dawn of understanding on a child's face, when you know you connected him to something that will change his life. I salute you, Debra Thorpe.

    1. Thank you, Kathy. I wouldn't have survived this long if you hadn't held my hand through those first few years.

      Canyons has been pretty good about giving me all the information and options and Union gave me my bobcat and a book signed by the faculty, so I left feeling loved. If I'm approved for long-term disability, all will be well.