Teacher says vaya con dios after 18 years: Leaves the classroom to open new chapters

Just two years shy of the 20 years Laura Leever had intended to complete as a Shelter Island Spanish teacher, she’s opted to retire at the end of this school year.

It’s time, she said in an interview at the school Monday.

“COVID played a part,” she noted about retiring now. “It’s thrown everybody for a loop.” Still, she thinks staff members have weathered the storm somewhat better than students, perhaps because their life experiences have taught them about dealing with adversity. But the pandemic wasn’t the only factor that led to the decision. At 63, she said she’s young enough to enjoy the next chapter of her life and the opportunity to travel beckons.

Ms. Leever, from Orange County, Calif., started her teaching career there, working with 5th and 6th graders. Because California required teachers to be bilingual, she majored in Spanish and spent three years teaching on the West Coast before heading East.

She had visited a friend in Sag Harbor and liked the area, but there wasn’t a full-time teaching job to be had. She relocated to New York City, finding a job in desktop publishing. But the company she joined eventually was bought out and she was one of many who found themselves without work. That prompted her to move to the East End, where she finally was offered a teaching job at The Ross School. It would last three years before she learned of an opening on Shelter Island.

Ms. Leever had tired of working for a private school, but liked small classes where she could get to know her students. At Shelter Island School she found the opportunity to start teaching students at age 12, and continue to work with them as they went from preteens to age 18 as they ascended toward adulthood.

She’s loved interacting with students and staff and will miss them — simple moments such as walking down a hallway and saying hello to everybody.

“I like children,” she said about her career. She’ll miss contributing to their education when she retires, and hopes tofind ways to continue that passion. But it’s not likely to be as a substitute teacher or in a classroom. She’s tired of standardized tests and regulations imposed by the state that she feels don’t contribute to what her students need to learn, she said. She doesn’t dismiss the possibility of seeking a Board of Education seat, or finding other ways of sharing her knowledge and caring about the field of education.

She currently lives in Noyac, where she indulges her love of gardening, growing much of her own food and caring for native plantings on her property. As she prepares to leave, she’s turned to colleague Catherine “Cat” Brigham to take her two large beds of strawberries and give them a good second home.

“I’m always looking to share,” she said about turning her beloved plantings over to a new caretaker.

Thinking about the future, she describes it “like a whole new book.”

The initial chapter will be a world the internet has opened up to her — meeting people in groups whom she’s met online and hopes to visit on a planned trek west.

As for her destination, she may not know where it is; but she knows what it looks like. It’s a quiet place — pitch black skies at night where only twinkling stars shed light on the earth; no leaf blowers disturbing the daytime peace; no jets or helicopters flying overhead.

If there’s any trepidation about the future, it comes with the sudden realization that she will soon lack the structure a full-time job has provided.

“I like structure,” Ms. Leever said. She’s wondering what it will be like after so many years to not have to do anything but what she chooses day to day.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Ms. Leever said. But not knowing doesn’t change her optimism that “everything works out perfectly.”