Choose to Fly

 

I retired from the position as Acting State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Commonwealth of Virginia on June 1. Actually, because of bureaucratic misinformation and a regulatory situation that is far too complex to explain, I left my position on June 11 which I think technically makes me the only guy who retired 11 days after it actually occurred. I’ll write that story some other time.

But, in an instant, my 38-year career serving the needs of public school students ended. No fanfare. No parties. No celebrations. No chance to reflect or reminisce.  It just simply ended. With the help of my wife, the love of my life, my partner, my spiritual and professional beacon, and by all accounts the far more intelligent Dr. Constantino, I quietly cleaned out my office on a Sunday afternoon and by the close of business on the very next day, I didn’t exist at the state department of education.  I had been wiped out of computers, my e-mail was terminated, and my parking pass didn’t work. Getting out of the parking garage was a challenge, the last bastion of state bureaucracy.

I wish I could tell you that my retirement was a well-conceived plan, but it wasn’t. I actually had not even thought about retirement until days before it actually happened. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, my years as a public school teacher and leader dissipated into thin air. It was simply gone. Over. Finished.

I thought I would be sad. I thought I would be melancholy about the circumstances in which I found myself. I even thought I might be angry. After all, I had dedicated the vast majority of my life to a career that was suddenly ripped away.  I was prepared for any and all of those emotions to hit me like a baseball bat. But, they never did. And the reason they did not is because, I haven’t ended anything, but rather, I have embarked on a new journey, a new way to continue to make an impact on the field that I love and cherish, that being, giving children the best opportunity to thrive and learn. How lucky I am to continue to dedicate my career to my passions, and on my terms!

Doors close. Doors open. I have heard that expression for most of my adult life and chalked it up to people putting a positive spin on a negative situation. However, now that I have lived it, I am here to say that it is absolutely true. Life has a tendency to push you off a ledge and as I see it, you have two choices, you can fly, or you can contemplate your life in the few seconds you have before you hit the ground. I choose to fly.

We may not be in control of situations in which we find ourselves, but, we are in control of our destiny. We very much can control what happens next, at least when it comes to determining what the definition is of a fulfilling life. One door closes and many open.

During my first few years of teaching, I worked in a very small school system in Upstate New York, and by small I mean about 600 students K-12. I taught elementary students how to play instruments and I worked with secondary school students as well. The community was tight-knit and the students were simply the best in the world. I came to know them and their families extremely well. I was invited to all kinds of events, from birthday parties to backyard summer bar-b-ques. We were truly one big family. We celebrated successes with vigor and mourned when we learned of heartbreaking losses. As I take some time to look back over my career, those three years stand out as ones that truly shaped me as a teacher and a leader.

The community was primarily Catholic, so Christmas was a big deal. I can remember the parties and celebrations like they were yesterday. And the food…wow! One day in school, a young lady who was in my band class at the high school handed me a wrapped gift at our holiday gathering and said “Merry Christmas Mr. Constantino. I hope you like this. It’s what you taught me.”  I hugged and thanked her for her kindness. It wasn’t until later that evening that I opened the gift. Inside of the box there was a plaque. The plaque read:

“Excellence can be attained if youcare more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, expect more than others think is possible.”

As a young teacher, I never knew that I had made that kind of an impact on a student. I stared at that plaque for what seemed like hours. I remember the feeling of accomplishment when I understood that I had truly impacted a student in a very positive way. I had done what every teacher hopes to do: I made a difference in the life of a child.

I saw that plaque again today and it inspired me to write this blog. Once again, many, many years later, I am applying what I both taught and learned to a new beginning; a new chapter in my career. I continue to care a great deal about our profession. I have always and will continue to take the risks necessary to make radical change which results in the success of every student. I will never stop dreaming about what could be and I will continue to expect of myself and those around me, that they do the same.

They tell me I’m retired, but I don’t think I am. I feel invigorated to take on the world. I am electrified by the ability to travel and work with educators whose common purpose is for all students to succeed. I am venturing into an EdTech firm whose mission is to engage families, a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m thinking about a new book or two and continue my teaching at a local University.

I didn’t know for 11 days I was technically retired. I still don’t think I quite understand that I am. I am busier than I have ever been. In an instant, I walked through a door and found a whole new world! I am flying.

I’ll keep you apprised of what I learn. And not to sound too much like Frank Sinatra, “come fly with me!”