When a Teacher Retires
I firmly believe that our souls are constantly speaking to us, especially when it has a connection or bond to another. I was reminded of this on Sunday when thoughts and memories of my high school dance teacher kept entering my mind. She was a petite Japanese-Canadian woman that possessed an aura of power, intimidation, kindness, and grace. The best way for me to describe our relationship is that it was the epitome of teacher and student. I looked up to her, I learned from her, and I admired her.
So on this particular Sunday, I thought about the wonderful memories I had of dancing for her and beside her. That night, I felt compelled to visit an old friend’s Facebook page, which is something I do once every two months, and there it was: After twenty years, Karen Koyanagi (or K2 as she was called) was retiring as the dance teacher of Binghamton High School and her final performance was that night.
I was then hit by a strange feeling that is hard to put into words, even now. I of course felt sadness that was not due to me missing her seeing as I have not seen her in years, but it was instead due to the missed opportunity that will result from her retirement. I found it quite rare that a high school would have a dance department, let alone, an excellent teacher in it. And students after her will never be able to experience that joy. Reading about K2’s retirement also made me aware of perhaps a naivety that I had in believing (and even hoping) that the teachers I held near and dear to me would teach on forever. And I guess in my eyes, K2 will leave too soon.
In thinking of K2 that day, two of my favorite memories of her came to mind. The first was the week that my great-grandmother had died, and I was having trouble assessing my feelings in dealing with the death of someone in my family for the first time as well as the fact that I barely knew her. K2 had noticed the change in my behavior and had sat me down after class to talk. And it was in the sunlight classroom that she withdrew from me words that I had bottled up inside and emotions that spilled from my eyes and onto her shoulder.
The final memory that I will share with you happened at my high school graduation. Mine was structured in a way that when a student’s name was called, they were greeted by someone who handed them their diploma and the student then proceeded to say their goodbyes to all the school administrators waiting in a line before them. When my name was called, I was greeted by a wonderful teacher who was to retire that year or the year after. Holding back tears, I took the diploma and gave a hug to every administrator that stood before me and at the very end of that line stood K2. In remembering that day, her presence took me aback a little. It wasn’t because she was not an administrator, but because of how and where she stood. All the administrators had stood side-by-side, facing the audience as the students said their goodbyes. But K2 stood about five feet away from them and her body was turned to face the student as they made their way to her. As I approached K2 that day, the same feelings that resurfaced on Sunday came to me for this woman, this teacher, this wonderful and supportive educator. And on days like Sunday when memories of her creep into in my mind, I’ll smile and think of what I said to her on graduation day when I held her close: “I love you, K2.”