Saturday, May 27, 2017

Public Education: Death By A Thousand Retirements

Retirement dinners are bittersweet. We say goodbye to those who have worked for decades, but we also lose those decades of experience. Last week I hosted my county education association's annual retirement dinner. These were my opening remarks:
Tonite we are celebrating almost 800 years of educational excellence. Whether bus driver, maintenance, custodian, classroom teacher, instructional aide, administrative assistant or cafeteria aide, you are part of a learning community and you contributed to the education and advancement of students. And for that, we thank you. 
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds who ever lived— student and eventually teacher himself—once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” 
In an era where educational success is measured more by what can be counted than what counts, your decades of experience can be counted, but they can never be replaced. 
So, while you all are enjoying your well-deserved retirement, your colleagues will—I’m quite sure—carry on the traditions, wisdom and experience that you passed on to them with their students. That’s what masters at their craft do. That’s what those at the highest levels of their professions do. We pass on our gifts, so they can be given to others, so that excellence can continue. 
I’m not talking about the best ways to prep students for PARCC or how to effectively collect data; I’m talking about what you learned about dealing with students of every make and model over the years. How, through all the chaos of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, testing, budget cuts, the overall attack on our profession and our professional association, you preserved your dignity as well as that of your students. I'm talking about how you took in all the changes and insanity forced on you in your long careers, synthesized it all, and gave it to your students in ways that respected them as individual learners while maintaining your dignity as highly qualified education professionals.

As I was creating tonite’s program, I was looking at your numbers. Five of you passed 30 years, and one of you reached 42 years! You have taught, not just children, but generations of children. And oh how they have changed. And while you may have had to adapt to Pokémon, technology and social media, at your core, you always found ways to touch students’ hearts like no standardized test ever could. 
As a child, I remember laying in the grass in my backyard while my mother hung clothes out to dry, staring at the clouds, and wondering what they were, where they came from, were they were going, and marveling at the different images I saw in them.

I remember lazy summer afternoons with boxes full of random stuff, recycled this, bits of that, crayons, glue, spools of thread, scraps of fabric left over from my mother's sewing, and the uninhibited joy of mashing it all together and seeing what happened. 
Life was slower, kids could be kids.

Students today don’t have that luxury. In an era where they are ‘plugged in’ from the moment they wake up 'til the moment they go to bed—including far too much of that during the school day—you kept them focused on the really important things like kindness, respect, empathy and fairness. You taught them that it’s more important to see what’s in another person’s heart than what’s on their Instagram page. You reminded them that it’s not what score you got on a test, but how much you learned along the way. You taught them how to lay in the grass and stare at the clouds because sometimes we have to just shut off our minds and feel life happening all around us. 
Those things can never be measured, but boy oh boy, they sure do count.

So, thank you for your years of experience and dedication to the most important profession on this earth, and for choosing to practice it in the state that has one of the best public education systems in the country. Your efforts have made it such...
How much longer will we continue to see educators retire with 30 or 40+ years of experience? At the rate education 'reform' is going, not much longer. Our profession can't sustain the assault. 'Reformers' have brought the 'churn' of corporate America to our ranks. Teach for Awhile America markets education as a resumé padder instead of a career. ALEC-funded politicians write bills allowing people to teach without certification. Charters pay teachers less and administrators more. And all across this country, wages are down, workloads are up, and we are continually expected to do more with less. 

Oh yea, and Betsy DeVos is Education Secretary. 

This is what 800 years of education excellence looks like. Will we ever see it again? Not if we don't stand up and fight for it. I'm fighting. Are you?