Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Long Goodbye

Few occupations are like teaching. At some point, the work that we do just stops. It is a pleasant experience that other adults likely envy, their work continuing on unabated--only slowing to fit into vacation time, rising and falling in intensity with the seasons of the marketplace or other cyclical demands.
We are at the stopping point now and have shifted into the last ritual of teaching -- saying goodbye.
Besides bidding farewell to students, the last week of school is a season of goodbyes to colleagues who are retiring--often from decades of teaching.
As those who mentored me leave and take their wisdom with them, I suffer. When two or three colleagues leave, hundreds of years of experience goes with them. I'm left wondering who will model the calm efficiency of an art well learned for the newest teaching generation.
Each time one of these seasoned educators leaves the scene, there are fewer and fewer long term educators to take their place. In addition, all that they learned about how to transmit their subject to young people walks out the door with them.
There are few opportunities in the teaching workplace for sharing to go on in a meaningful ways. So while most may think we celebrate our long summer vacations, I often see them as an institutional slap in the face that implies that the work teachers do is not of value to the institution itself. We are dismissed. Any enhancing of our skills is caught on our own, on the fly. I would have liked to learn from those I work with who do it best.
I am at the young end of the baby boomers and see a gulf between my age group and the next group of educators in the system. In a few short years, young teachers will not have professional models of a life built in education. Teaching to the test, following a curriculum in lockstep is going to soon look like the norm, not a dangerous exception.
Just as I feel the pressure of time to get certain skills and dispositions in place for my students in the time I have with them, I am getting a rising sense of panic as more and more trusted educators get fed up, walk out, and leave the rest of us stranded.