“I have some news to tell you.”
My Aqua Zumba teacher gathered the class together in the pool before we began our morning workout.
“I’m moving back to Costa Rica at the end of July.”
While I was happy for her — she would be returning to her family and working with an ecotourism business — I was in dismay. Aqua Zumba is my favorite fitness class offered at the health club; it was my own version of “So You Think You Can Dance,” because when camouflaged by the water, I followed Anita’s cues and thought I could dance — and I knew I could work hard. I imagined the sweat Anita produced on dry land as she led us was reciprocated by my action in the pool. It was a great way to start the day, and, as we’d had a few (inferior) substitute teachers along the way, I was doubtful that anyone could replace Anita.
My belief that no one could adequately replace her caused me dismay — and helped me better understand the feelings of the students I won’t have in the fall.
“Chelsea sent me a message telling me to beg you not to leave,” my son Adam told me recently.
Chelsea is one of my homeroom students. I’ve had the same class for what we call “homebase” since they began their ninth grade year. This, their senior and final year at the Academy, they will have a different teacher for homebase and for English.
This is the first summer I haven’t spent preparing for an upcoming school year in some manner. I knew from the beginning of last school year that it would be my last year teaching, and so I worked from Day 1 to leave a legacy, to do my utmost to leave behind a path easily followed by another teacher, to make sure the students to whom I would not teach English would return to find the new teacher prepared and competent (and, likely, better than I ever was).
However, for reasons that would be obvious to those teaching in a small, private school, I didn’t advertise my termination date. For one, I didn’t want students to reject the Academy experience because I wasn’t returning; having been at the school for 11 years, I was somewhat of a fixture. For another, it was too painful to look at every significant moment of the school year as if it were my last (except, perhaps, that last stack of essays to grade). I had to embrace every day for what it was, determined to make the most of it, to be completely “all there” until I no longer was. Certainly, God was in control; God had a plan for His school — and a plan for me. Though I knew I would miss my dear school and dearer students and they me, I knew whatever God had in store was best for all of us.
But it is hard to trust in the midst of a goodbye we don’t want to happen.
My fitness instructor’s announcement of her goodbye made me see that from a student’s perspective. Aqua Zumba has been my 6 a.m. staple on Tuesday and Thursday mornings the past nearly 10 months. Only sickness or vacations out of town could keep me from attending. I woke up happy on Aqua Zumba days; the 45-minute class was great exercise with a group of people who have become friends. The class was a hit because of Anita; she was friendly and energetic, smiled like Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and led us through the dance moves on dry land while we mimicked her in the water.
My classmate Connie often said, “She doesn’t have an ounce of fat,” and I was convinced the flow of traffic to the sauna — with its windows having a full view of Anita’s dance space — increased on Aqua Zumba days.
“Hello, my name is Anita,” she would say after the first song. “Welcome to Aqua Zumba. I appreciate you being here.”
She would work us through a variety of songs, encouraging us to make big movements, keep our fingers together and our knees soft. At times, she would mime wimpy versions of the routine, then shake her finger shamefully at us, before dramatically demonstrating the energy and effort she wanted to see. At key places in and between songs, we sang or yelled or “woohooed.” Even the shyest among us participated.
Daily, Anita appeared in what some of my students would term “matchy matchy” clothes; she managed to coordinate bright-colored, shorts, tops, shoes, socks, and headband — always with the word Zumba printed somewhere. Sometimes Anita would point to that word, so we would yell “Zumba” in perfect timing with the song’s end. Occasionally, we got it right. It always made me smile.
Since the day she told us she would be leaving, Anita has been working hard to find a replacement. The health club’s “non-compete” clause — and, just maybe, the 6 a.m. time slot — has made it difficult to find a new teacher, but last week she finally gave us some bad news and some good news: No Aqua Zumba in August, but a new teacher starts in September.
As Anita would say, “Can I get a ‘Woohoo!’?”
It is hard to believe that someone could replace Anita, but I am happy someone is at least going to try. It makes saying goodbye a little easier.
I have a replacement too; as part of the administration team last year, I got the chance to help interview some candidates for my position and help choose the perfect fit. I have passed along lesson plans and files galore, met with the new teacher several times to help orient her to the position, and remain available should she have a question. I can leave my beloved Academy in perfect peace. God, indeed, had a plan for the school.
He also had a plan for me. (See “Surprised by work…” for details.)
It may be hard to trust in the midst of goodbye, but seeing God’s faithfulness so far makes it just a bit easier…