This morning I’m thinking about endings, about finales.
Oh right, I hear some TV show ended last night, didn’t it? Sure hope that lived up to everyone’s expectations.
But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.
This morning I turned off my alarm clock for what may be the last time for the next two and a half months. That is a lovely thought.
But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.
This morning I am thinking about my friends who are leaving my school. Because today is their last day of teaching.
My friend Veronica, who came to Tucson and to this school from out of state, and was thrown right into the deep end, teaching high school students who have, many of them, gone to the same charter school for five, ten, or even twelve or more years (We had a graduate last year who went to pre-school with this charter, so, fourteen years in one school. It’s like Little House on the Prairie or something.), and who were used to their friends and their teachers, and who DON’T LIKE CHANGE. Then a year later, and for no valid reason, she was switched entirely to middle school students — who are, of course, demons. Turns out, Veronica is a splendid demon wrangler, and she spent the next two years lashing them into submission, mostly with her height, which is remarkable; her voice, which can be both piercing and booming as she wishes; and her humor, which is far more biting than her students knew.
But I knew, and that’s what I’ll miss: her humor. The evil little chuckle, the manic smile, the way she says “YEAH!” when I make some joke about making students suffer. I’ll miss the dedication and effort she put into helping children, too.
My friend Kellie had a similar experience with coming from out of state to teach high school and then ending up with middle school, except Kellie’s was even faster: she never even got to teach high school. And it’s an absolute crime, because she is exactly what a high school teacher should be: she has deep knowledge of and love for her subject; she’s cool and relaxed; she can relate to teenagers and speak to them like human beings. The school found a great science teacher — and then they threw her into the demon pit of middle school, where she suffered all year, without support, without any consideration for her needs or wishes. Since she had taught before, she knew exactly what she was missing, and she is leaving this school to go where she belongs: to a high school.
I’m going to miss her humor, her style, her passion for science, and her companionship. It’s been great to have her on my end of the hall, and it’s going to be far less interesting next year without her.
Adriana, my fellow English teacher, came in specifically to teach middle school, because clearly she’s insane. But what’s really insane is this: she taught them. She taught the hell out of them. She took students who were absolute hellions, and she not only controlled them, not only taught them to follow her rules and expectations — she taught them English. Whoever ends up teaching those kids when they get to high school is going to have a far easier time, with far more capable students; and it will be because of Adriana. I am personally grateful to her because her willingness to teach those tiny hyperactive, hypersonic imps meant that I didn’t have to do it: she spent three years jumping on grenades for me, and I can’t thank her enough.
I’m going to miss having her in the department, having her in meetings, hearing her infectious laugh, and knowing that the students were being mashed into some kind of shape by her incredible efforts. She’s been an inspiration to me, and I’m grateful for it.
The last one is both the hardest and the easiest to deal with: because it’s my wife, Toni DeBiasi. She’s been in the classroom next to me for the last three years, which has made them the best and most enjoyable three years of my two decades in teaching. She’s been utterly incredible: she came in with not much experience teaching, certainly nothing like multiple classes for an entire year, and she mastered it, entirely and completely. She’s so smart, and so capable, that she has been able to build a successful fine art program, in a STEM school, while also becoming a vital emotional and mental support for her students, who love her almost as much as I do. She came in to an empty room, almost — except it wasn’t, it was chock full of crap — because the previous teacher took out all of her teaching materials and lesson plans, and left Toni with a small, cramped room filled with shelves, filled with old paint and old paper, old clay and ceramics, old tools and materials that she had no idea what to do with. It took months to clean it all out, even while she was trying desperately to come up with material to teach her five classes, covering every ability level from elementary to college. May I also note, since I saw it first hand (Though I’m sure that the other three did the same in their own lives), that she managed to help me keep our household together and running, if not smoothly, at least consistently.
I’ll miss her at school, but at least I have the consolation of coming home to her every day.
I want this post to be more about recognition than making a point, but there is a very clear point here: all four of these women are excellent teachers, and all four of them are leaving the school within three years of being hired. That’s an issue. All four of them taught middle school, and for three of them, that’s the main reason they’re leaving (Veronica can’t stand the Tucson climate, which is also fully understandable.); that and the near-complete abandonment of them all by the institution. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with, or it will only get worse. Though all of them have gotten support from fellow teachers, friends, and loved ones, still, the school has not been able to give them what they need, and so the school has lost them — but the loss will be felt most keenly by the students. And by me and the rest of the faculty, of course, because these four women are lively and fun and intelligent and splendid to be around, and we’ll miss their spirit.
I will also note that three of the four are leaving teaching, two — Adriana and my wife, Toni — leaving forever. This is, again, a problem that needs to be dealt with, and it is a problem for this entire country. Twenty years ago, nearly, I wrote an essay about being a teacher, and in it I pointed out that the lack of structure and support, and the lack of respect and interest from students, was the main reason (along with money, of course) that 40% of teachers left the profession in the first two to five years. That has not gotten better: if the trend at my school is any indication, it’s gotten worse. We need to fix it before we lose everything.
But any fix will be too late to save this loss.
Thank you all for your friendship, and for your wonderful gift of teaching. I appreciate you all, and I will miss you all in the hallway. May the best of your past be the worst of your future, and may the road ever rise up to meet your feet.