Ironically, a generation of veteran teachers stands ready to retire just as our schools are being radically transformed. I hope we will leave behind more than empty chairs for those who follow.
Mary Lee Drouin
wenty years have passed since I "became" a teacher. I remember leaving the superintendent's office after my interview in a one-story cinderblock and brick 1960's schoolhouse that seemed to cling, bunker-like, to a rural hillside in the northwestern corner of Rhode Island. I looked to my left and saw a long line of candidates waiting to be interviewed. To my right, leaning against the main office counter, stood the science department chair with whom I had shared a pre-interview chat. With a twinkle in his eye, he informed me that all new English teachers should pay homage to science by bringing home-baked brownies to the faculty room on the first day of school.
wo weeks ago, as I wrote a letter of recommendation for this man's grandson, I remembered impishly baking cookies instead of brownies. The cookies were from an old recipe to which I added my own ingredients. Though I was careful to observe the ritual measurements that were the copyright of some chef before me, I was willing to risk the culinary outcome (and the wrath of science) of cookies more uniquely mine than the cookbook publisher had intended. Creative license served to fulfill my long-ago faculty room obligation, and the metaphor still sweetens my process of continuing to become a teacher.
he notion of becoming a teacher implies the acceptance of unfinished process. Ironically, a generation of veteran teachers stands ready to retire, to end our careers just as our schools are being radically transformed. As veteran practitioners whose work inspires young colleagues, we must leave behind a legacy made up of more than vacant chairs. We need to recognize that our own processes can carry on in the work of those entering the profession. In our roles as mentors, we must go beyond how best to do the work of teaching and learning and to include reflection on the lives that shape our teaching. I believe our personal philosophies are much more relevant to what we actually do in our classrooms than institutional mission statements.
yle Schlesinger is a new teacher in our English department. Though twenty years stand between us, we have much in common. Over the next two years he will take a formal look at what it means to become a teacher as he moves through the high school accreditation process; but sometimes at the end of the day, he and I take our own informal look at what we believe and do. At these times, I often wish I could bring my own mentor to him, a woman who chaired our English Department through three decades. Shirley M. Maynard was a mentor to all of us in the department, not through formal arrangement, but through her capacity to be the kind of teacher we all wanted to become.
t was because the story of this woman's work was so available to me that I had a tradition to grow by, one which welcomed my "new ingredients." Though she would have met every current standard of best practice, it was her essential humanity that most informed her teaching. The question of how this was so would intrigue Kyle, and the answers might encourage him.
houghts like these remind me that teaching is a traditiona primary cultural role that can be handed down from one generation to the next. That's only true if we accept teacher preparation as a continuing process in our careers, for ourselves and for those we mentor. It is important that Kyle Schlesinger meet Shirley M. Maynard, not just through a generation of teachers who felt her influence, but in person. Perhaps those of us poised to retire should remember that ending a career is not the same as finishing one. Our retirement plans might include a return on which we had not banked, if we invest ourselves in the work of a young colleague. For then, the final lesson will demonstrate a tradition of past practice as timeless best practice for all who begin and continue to become teachers.