LGOTN: Letting Go Of The Nonsense

May 1, 2015

Another school year whizzed by. Children are thrilled with thoughts of endless summer and their counterparts in education, teachers, are cleaning up their rooms so they won’t return to a disaster in the short months until school resumes in the fall. For new teachers time still runs relatively slowly, but the older-timers know time speeds up as you age. It’s a fact.  

I retired from public education two years ago. I didn’t make the magic thirty year mark mainly because I woke up one day in March and was finished. I felt it deep in my bones; my brilliant career was flaming out. Teaching is an art, not a science and good teachers are always developing their art. If they aren’t, it’s time to join the AFLAC sales team. While I still enjoyed teaching, I could not work up enthusiasm about Common Core, Arne Duncan’s last grasp at redemption. Common Core joins the other heads of the Hydra, “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” Big steaming piles of nonsense designed to subsidize textbook and technology companies. You can say those things when you are retired.

So now I am an emeritus; a retired teacher who gets called not only to substitute teach but also to mentor new teachers just starting out in the profession. When did that happen? It seems just yesterday I was cranking the old mimeograph, getting light-headed from the ink. In the blink of an eye, I was responding to English students on “google docs.” A lot has changed in the teaching profession in last few decades. But one thing hasn’t changed and that’s the continual need for enthusiastic, dedicated teachers to nurture and educate the next generation.

When I was starting out in Eureka City Schools, the administration paired new teachers with veterans in an effort to support novices in those first few years of honing their art. There were training days where we ate bagels and listened to “professionals” push the latest in education theory. After the slide presentations and mimeograph handouts, we sat with our mentors who often pushed aside the neatly collated materials and gave us the straight talk. My mentor, the wise, funny and sensible Mary Fraser was there to listen and offer practical and real solutions for those first year problems. She was a sounding board and a cheerleader and knew what was important and what to dump in the wastebasket.

Fast forward twenty five years and the state of California Department of Education and Teacher Credentialing now has BTSA Induction, an acronym for “Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment.” If the acronym isn’t enough to discourage new teachers, the program description is. I quote, “The program engages preliminary credentialed teachers in a job-embedded formative assessment system of support and professional growth…” blah blah blah. I am sorry to waste precious page space on that mind-numbing description, but it is instructive to see what teachers have to contend with when state and federal agencies decide to inject their “oversight” into their classrooms.

I’m not sure what “job-embedded formative assessment” really means but I will say it is an honor to pay it forward and help my “Participating Teacher” in her first year of teaching. In BTSA, I am a “Support Provider” or “SP” for short and “PT” is short for, well you already know what. Just as in my early years, we have administrative hoops to jump through, meetings to attend, bagels to consume. PowerPoint has replaced the hiccuping slide carousels but, never fear, groves of trees are still being sacrificed to copy machines for those never ending handouts. And the acronyms—the endless strings of letters which confuse rather than enlighten—that hasn’t changed a bit.

My PT has had what I would categorize as a typical first year in teaching. She has experienced some real successes and has also had her genius dismissed by administration and, as they say in education, “other stakeholders.” Typically she focuses on the slights, because that’s what humans do. I try to help her see that teaching is a marathon and you have to pace yourself emotionally, intellectually and physically if you want to make it to the finish line. I also try to help her bask in the thrill of genuine accomplishment. She has amazing talent and commitment and it will only get better as the years pass.

As someone who has spent most of her professional life in public schools I can confidently say that most teachers are dedicated, hardworking and fantastic at their craft. Often they do well in spite of, not because of, administration, school boards and the Department of Education. Those entities come and go, but teachers are the ones who stay, year after year, to educate all comers, the high achievers, low achievers and every other kind of achiever in the melting pot known as the public. In education, no two days are alike, no two years are alike. New teachers need the perspective of experienced colleagues to help them step back, let go of the nonsense and focus on cultivating their own unique craft.

Pretty soon, Common Core will be replaced with something else, your students will grow up and move on and today’s new teachers will be the mentors for next generation. Take full advantage of the fleeting summer break. It all happens so fast. That’s a fact.

Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres is a retired teacher working in collaboration with two other playwrights on a second melodrama to be produced in the fall. Their first, “The Marlahan Mustard Mystery” played to appreciative audiences in Yreka and Scott Valley. She was recently injured teaching the Irish Jig proving that no good jig goes unpunished.