Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saying Goodbye: An End of the Year Tribute

"Saying Goodbye" by Teri Gamble

Saying goodbye
   is like crying a rainbow of feeling
       and hoping no.

Wanting to stay
   is like finding a cloud that's been emptied
       with nowhere to go.

But looking away
   is tearing a smile from the face of a rose
       and holding its thorn.

Having just ended my thirty-second year teaching, I can honestly say I've seen many people come and go. Generally, we hug and say goodbye, let's keep in touch, I've loved working with you, I'm jealous (when the departure is for retirement), and other platitudes.

This year saying goodbye to departing colleagues differs from many previous years. So I'm dedicating this post to my departing colleagues.

Ann Akers has been Highland's media specialist for more than 25 years. We met when I began spending much time in the library during my first year at Highland. The school was crowded, and I had to abandon my room for another teacher to use.

Most of my colleagues don't know the contributions Ann has made, nor do they realize how innovative she was in the early days of technology in schools. Ann was the first librarian in our district to hav a web page; she anticipated the move from print journals to data bases long before her peers. She sold candy from a cart to raise money for comfortable tables, chairs, computer carts, and sturdy book shelves. Ann did her best to purchase books students requested, movies and other resources teachers requested, all without any raise in her per-student budget. Ann bought Highland's first library computers with money she raised from candy sales.

The past two years, after our district fired all but the high school media specialists, Ann supervised six other school libraries in addition to performing her duties at Highland.

Ann is an Army vet and a consumate professional. She has been my very good friend for many years. She is my shopping buddy, my confidant, the bearer of my burdens, both professional and personal. Now she is leaving Highland and moving to Florida. My limited vocabulary prevents me from saying how much I will miss her.

Ann holding her lifetime Highland activities pass
Teresa Bosen and her husband Doug have been my colleagues the past twelve years. Doug models professionalism. He's one of those fellows whose presence is felt by his commitment to being where he's suppose to be and doing what he's suppose to do day in and out. How can we replace someone whose Business Professionals of America program has won numerous state and national awards? Like many teachers in Idaho, Doug is leaving the profession; he's a testament of what is happening across the country as politicians and pseudo-ed reformers continue to malign our profession. If you need real estate in St. George, Utah, call Doug.

Teresa is someone who has given me so much more than I can ever repay. She has taught drama, speech, and sometimes English alongside me. This year I had the pleasure of watching Teresa critique my Poetry Out Loud students. I learned so much about interpretation and directing students just by sitting in the theater for a few hours and listening to Teresa. Additionally, Teresa has served on our Sunshine Committee and was instrumental in implementing the Lionel Bowzer Excellence in Teaching Award two years ago, so named for Highland's first principal, Lionel Bowzer. I was honored to be the first recipient, and I'm sure I owe that honor to Teresa. My goal is to make a small attempt to live up to all the support and praise Teresa has lavished on me over the years. It will be an impossible task, but I will try.

Teresa surrounded by theater paraphernalia 
It isn't often that an administrator moves back into the classroom, but that's what Sue Rinquist did, and now she's a retiring art teacher. The thing I admire most about Sue is her mince-no-words candor. She was a supportive and fair assistant principal and from the work I've seen from students, she has been an excellent pottery teacher. I had the pleasure of working closely with Sue on Highland's mission statement several years ago. But I first met Sue at the gym and have watched her conquer her weight-loss goals and maintain them for many years. I bet she doesn't know what a motivator she has been to me in all three of these capacities. Now Sue has lots of free time to take Niel Gainman's advice and "make good art." I'm a little jealous.

Sue in the pottery room
Three of my colleagues will remain in our district but will teach in other buildings. First, Stan Adona has been a colleague in the English department and has taught the broadcasting courses at Highland. Given the district's slash and gash budget, we are losing 1.5 English positions even though our enrollment will be up significantly next year. Consequently, Stan is on his way to Hawthorne Middle School. When school starts next year and we no longer have a student-produced news program hi-lighting the accomplishments and creative talents of our students, we will really feel Stan's absence.

Stan and a pile of papers
Sometimes it doesn't take much time for a colleague to become a friend, even when the colleague splits his time between two schools. Todd VanOrden, a counselor at Highland, has an infectious personality, and I have soaked up his praise and support this year. Todd and I had a plan to organize a student tour during spring break next year, but now Hawthorne Middle School gets my buddy. I'm fortunate to work with fabulous counselors who provide a buffer between students, their parents, and teachers during potentially stressful times. Counselors are the best listeners, and Todd is a superb listener, making me feel as though he is hanging on my every word.

I'm sure I have no clue just how much I've benefited from Todd's support. Additionally, Todd gave up time with his young family to volunteer time during Senior Project Presentation Night. I'm so grateful for the short amount of time Todd has been my colleague. He makes me smile and reminds me why I became a teacher.
Todd packing up his office
While Kim Peck will no longer be teaching special education courses at Highland, she will still have an office in our building in her capacity as director of the Work Experience program, placing special education students on work sites.  And she will continue working as the coach and advisor of Highland's dance team. I've been very lucky to have worked closely with Kim this year since I've had several students from her caseload in my speech and English classes. I appreciate that Kim defers to my expertise and supports the accommodations I put in place for students. I'll miss working so closely with Kim, but I'm hopeful I can finally get her to teach my Baptist-raised hips to shimmy. Can I get an IEP for that?
Kim in her classroom
When those who control school budgets divvy up the funds and make cuts, they almost always do so in ways that impact students negatively. Real people get caught in the scythe that whacks funds from the teaching budget and wrecks havoc in schools. That's what has happened to my colleague and friend Angie Wojcik. Angie left a comfortable career to return to school and become a teacher. Last year she served as a long-term substitute, and this year she moved into the room next to mine where she taught English 10 and 11. I shared my refrigerator with Angie, and she shared her exuberance with me. Also, Angie promoted Poetry Out Loud in her classes, entered her students in writing contests, and helped evaluate senior projects at both of our Senior Project Presentation Nights.

I'm motivated by teachers new to the profession. They keep me focused and intent on improving my practice. A single mom who is devoted to students should not be caught in the cross-hairs of budget cuts, nor should students have to suffer huge classes where they get little individualized instruction. I worry that a promising career has grounded to a halt because when someone like Angie has occupational options, we certainly can't blame her if she returns to the sure thing. I'm still holding out hope that something will change and I'll see Angie's smiling face when I return to school in the fall.

Angie in her room
When I think about the power of narrative and the importance of memories, I invariably turn to William Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom!

We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales, we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable...

From 1967-1978 Carol Burnett ended her weekly variety show with a song, the lyrics of which seem particularly appropriate as we say goodbye to our retiring colleagues, those moving to new geographic and occupational locations, and those traveling across town to new classroom jobs: "I'm so glad we had this time together, just to share a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started, and before you know it, comes the time we have to say so long."

So long departing Highland colleagues, confidants, companions, friends. I will miss you and the stories we created working together.