A year ago this week, I retired after 42 years in education. I wrote a diary that I didn't publish. It was an emotional and frustrating time and I thought my judgement might be clouded. I decided to wait a year and see if the words still resonated.
Below is the diary from July 2, 2013
A few weeks ago, a woman came to my office to thank me for the assistance I provided for her daughter, a student at my school. She then spoke of her oldest son, who was my student many years ago. Through tears and with a halting voice she told me that I had inspired her son, who was dyslexic. As a teacher, I had provided some help to him and when he did well in class, I informed him (correctly) that he was the one who had accomplished the goal, and that despite his dyslexia, he was capable of doing well academically. Apparently this was a significant moment, a turning point in his life. I don't remember the incident, but he remembered, as did his mother.
I've been in education for 42 years. I like to think that I'm the same guy who was so encouraging to that young man. The parents, students and staff in my district seemed to think so and remind me constantly; but at a personal level, I find myself becoming more cynical. Cynicism is not good for educators.
Skepticism ... Yes. Cynicism .... No.
Thus I have walked away from my career of 42 years.
There is the desire to spend time with my partner in life, the person who gives it meaning. There is also some concern about health. Stress takes a toll and the yo-yo weight problem (gain it during the school year, lose it during the summer) is not healthy either.
But over-riding issue is weariness. I am tired.
I am tired of being angry and disgusted with our politicians. Angry with Republicans and disgusted by the Democrats. The Republicans are openly hostile. The Democrats feign concern and seek our support during election time, and then give us a shiv in the back as they pander to their corporate sponsors.
I am tired of teachers being scapegoated for society's problems. We didn't create the economic crisis. We didn't create the extremes in wealth. Yet we are expected to provide the magic cure.
I'm tired of the one size fits all approach that is pushed by the so-called reformers. Not only does one size not fit all, it doesn't really fit anyone. Students' needs change from day to day. The best practices are the ones that work for a teacher and her/his students.
I am tired of the union bashing. I'm tired of educators being labeled greedy because they want a modest salary and some health benefits. The irony is that those who lead the attack on unions are the vulture capitalists whose only allegiance is to the bottom line.
I'm tired of the lies and deceptive propaganda used to smear teachers.
I am tired of so-called progressives siding with the enemies of public education .
I am tired of the frauds: Paige, Duncan, Klei, Rhee, Canada. In each of these cases there was no miracle and there was no Superman.
I am tired of hucksters such as Tom Friedman who bash educators while promoting and defending neo-liberal policies which will result in the increasing impoverization of this country regardless of educational level of it's citizens.
At one time I thought that most of the critics at least had good intentions. I've have since come to the conclusion that many, if not most, seek no less than the destruction of public education and are driven primarily by greed. At one time I also thought that the Secretaries of Education, at least under Democratic administrations, were somewhat competent and had some knowledge of educational issues. I have been dissuaded of such ideas. Duncan is clueless when it comes to education. He mouths meaningless drivel, promotes failed reforms while undermining teachers and their unions.
And what I find equally disheartening is that a significant amount of my time is wasted on meaningless nonsense. Time that I should spend focusing on staff and students is instead spent on pointless paperwork. My last three weeks on the job were spent on meaningless reports for the state and federal governments. When I finished these reports, there was no sense of satisfaction that I had accomplished anything worthwhile, only relief that I wouldn't need to go through this nonsense again. At 66, time has become more precious. I refuse to spend any more of it on this idiocy.
I have been thanked profusely by members of the community over and over again, to the point of embarrassment; and while it is nice to be appreciated, I fear that my frustration will lead to a cynicism that would not be healthy for our district. My ego isn't so frail that needs constant massaging and besides, I often remind folks that the positive achievements of our school system were the result of the wonderful people in our school system who worked every day to give the children of our district hope.
I hope that I have convinced our staff that they are the reason for our success. The management style we have developed has been collegial rather than adversarial. I believe that the best leaders are those who hire good people, remove the impediments that hinder their ability to be effective, and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs. I hope the new boss will appreciate how lucky he is to have such a talented and dedicated group.
So what now? I am going to disengage. Not just from education but the whole rat race ... politics ... the news ... all of it. As I mentioned, I am weary. We seem to be fighting battles that I thought we had won fifty years ago. I can't believe we are actually having a public debate about the merits of voting rights or contraception. It's too discouraging.
The world doesn't need anther aging cynic so I will be stepping away for awhile. Just my wife and my family. Lots of cycling. Hit the weight room and get back into shape. Do some reading. Hike some trails. Kiss my wife atop of some mountain. Stop "becoming" and just "be" for awhile.
I did step away from education but not completely from the political sphere. I have kept somewhat abreast of the political events so I guess I'm not a total cynic ... yet.
Last autumn, my wife and I went on an extended 90 day trip across the country. Just pointed the car west and went where it wasn't raining. Lived in the present for a change.
We hiked to the top of a mountain and spent a wonderful afternoon there. When the parks closed in October, we headed up to Canada and discovered the beautiful city of Vancouver. Headed back to the states when the parks reopened. They were relatively uncrowded. By the time we reached Yosemite, it seemed that we had the whole valley to ourselves. We saw the sun rise over Crater Lake and the moon rise over the Grand Canyon. It was a life-affirming experience and I am so grateful to have been able to share it with her.
My only connection with the school was coaching track this spring. I speak occasionally to members of the staff and though they are as dedicated as ever, many are becoming more frustrated by the stupidity coming from Lansing and Washington. My daughter-in-law is a elementary principal and I rarely speak with her about education because she is so stressed. When they visit, she just wants to get away and de-stress.
Unless there is a change away from the neo-liberal attack on schools, I doubt that I will be significantly involved in education in the future. I guess I am getting too old to suffer fools gladly, especially as they attempt to destroy the institution to which I have dedicated most of my adult life.