Sunday, May 2, 2010

Before the Chalk Dust Settles

At the close of this school year, I will retire and close out my teaching career. For the past twelve years, it has been my privilege and good fortune to teach Lake Central High School students both general education and those with Special Needs. With prior teaching experience in Illinois and southern Indiana, my tenure as a classroom teacher totals 43 years. Forty-three years? It seems like 43 minutes! Now, before the lights are turned off and the classroom door is closed for the last time I want to take a few moments and share some thoughts about teaching and the process of education.

We’ve all been around long enough to realize that life is a series of beginnings and goodbyes; and no matter the number of our years we never quite get used to it. Most of us enjoy beginnings; goodbyes are a different matter. Part of the parade of seasons is change and one has to deal with change and accompanying challenges as presented: but before the goodbye part, a return to the beginning. When I walked into a classroom for the first time as teacher in late August of 1967, I was unseasoned, minimally skilled, and uncertain as to my effectiveness. It did not take long to develop coping, methodology, and survival skills. After forty plus years in the “trenches” I am a fully seasoned, reality based, capable, effective, adaptable, tempered, well-educated, and confident pedagogical unit. Over the past four decades I’ve witnessed events, innovations, happenings, fads, policies, catch phrases, procedures and a sundry of educational instructional approaches allegedly designed to improve the process of education. Even so, I firmly believe that a good teacher is at the core of effective learning.

Over the years students have arrived in the classroom: prepared and unprepared, properly parented and woefully neglected, nurtured and un-nurtured, well-nourished and under-fed, behaved and mal-behaved, respectful and disrespectful, joyful and sad, happy and angry, eager and ambivalent, active and passive, energetic and tired, outgoing and shy, confident and timid. Many times I witnessed a weed become a rose when the spark of understanding took flame. Those moments are truly magic!

And there were times that challenged every ounce of my resolve, energy, and commitment in order to get through the day. Most of the 7200 plus school days have been flooded with sunshine. There were times, however, when shadows threatened the brightness and we drew upon Faith and prayerful intercession to help us through difficult times. To all my colleagues and co-worker who shared these moments and times—thank you for being there.

I have often been asked why I decided to become a teacher. It goes back to the words I wrote as a high school senior in 1958: “All I want is a chance to do better!” I promised that if such a chance were presented to me, I would do what I could to help others learn. All through my formative years, along with family, there were teachers, mentors, classmates and friends who helped me along the way. In summer school of 1948, Whiting Primary teacher, Miss Stewart accepted a struggling parochial second-grader and helped me control my stuttering so I could read aloud without embarrassment. As a teenager, the teachers at Whiting High School never gave up on me: Mr. Taylor, Mr. Ulrich, Mr. Faulkner, Mr. Burkholtz, Mr. Allen and Mr. McClure. Each one of these pedagogical apostles encouraged, guided and helped me to understand subject matter, teaching lessons of life, which have served me well. By their word, example and kindness they gave me confidence to risk unreachable dreams; and by doing so, gave me courage to achieve those dreams.

Classmates who became like family gave support and encouragement. Most of all they gave their friendship. At the forefront: The Class of 1958— Whiting High School ’s finest! Each time I enter a classroom I remember the goodness of all who have touched my life and provided me with the “chance to do better.”

We’ve all been around long enough to know that the journey should be as enjoyable as the destination. Each time I think about teaching, I recall the closing lines from my favorite poem by Robert Frost. He writes about a solitary traveler and how, along the way, pauses to watch woods fill with snow. The poem ends with words of commitment, duty, obligation, and responsibility. Like the traveler in Frost’s poem I, too, know…”The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” Whatever adventures lie beyond the classroom door will unfold as destined by the stars. They will be welcomed and pursued with energy, enthusiasm and laughter-filled excitement. Without question, I’ve had a great time! To teachers everywhere: keep up the good work; so many others want the chance to do better.

Where's Al going to be next???

Check back soon for his next appearance at a location near you!