Thursday, April 25, 2013

-30- Marks the End & A New Beginning



Writer's note: After much thought and consideration, I finally decided to retire at the end of the school year. Below is a column that more or less gives my reasons why. And while I am ending my teaching career, I have several new beginnings I am excited about and will write about later. And, of course, I am hoping this decision will provide more opportunities to devote to blogging… again. 

******



For years now in my teaching career, I’ve felt like Lucy Ricardo working on the candy assembly line, but without the benefit of eating all that chocolate.
­­
It doesn’t help that our schools tend to look like factories filled with teachers who fanatically and frenetically try to keep pace in an environment that rewards uniformity.

Like Lucy, I have found myself working at warp speed, expected to churn out cookie-cutter children all wrapped up and ready to go as “lifelong learners,” “productive citizens” or whatever other education buzzword is trending at the time. This, of course, must occur in a “stimulating and challenging environment” and be packaged in a neat little box lined with a “better future.”

At the educational factory, the operative words are “standards” and “measurements” and “outcomes” – all topped off with standardized testing to make sure everything and everyone is properly and uniformly measured. Over the years, I’ve watched more young teachers than I can count run a white flag up their own standard and quickly retreat to another profession.

Like Lucy, they’ve said in so many words: “Listen, Ethel, I think we’re fighting a losing game.”

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a study cleverly entitled, “The Widget Effect.” The report showed how administrators and school systems treat teachers, not as individual professionals, “but rather as interchangeable parts.”  

The study called us “widgets” and predicted that public education would never really improve until administrators and policymakers quit viewing teachers that way. Finally, someone was singing my song.

I’m not sure how this widget thing has become so entrenched in our educational system. It’s not like it works anywhere else. If someone swapped a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett with a mediocre-no-name CEO, the results would be, well, quite different.

So why do we think we can swap out the Gloria Shields, the Mary Pulliams and the Dow Tates of our little educational world with interchangeable widgets and still yield the same results?

The widget metaphor has stuck with me like an obnoxious radio jingle. I haven’t been able to shake it off or ignore it. Instead, it’s made me only that much more defiant. Just because school feels like a factory, that doesn’t mean I have to act like a widget.

So I’ve tried to work harder and smarter, and eventually, that’s meant I’ve also worked longer hours. I’ve tried to do more, achieve more and be more until I’ve begun to feel like I belong in that Army recruiting commercial.

I’ve attended seminars, taught workshops and learned new things to bring to my classroom. I’ve embraced the latest technology, joined committees, mentored others and blogged religiously about my trials, tribulations and successes.

Rebelling against widgetry earns you a certain stature. I’ve been called many things. Some good, some bad and some that rhyme with what my students call me, Richie. The worst, though, has come when I’ve been brusquely dismissed as not being a “real teacher” because, you know, I teach an elective – another word for “pointless” in widget-speak.

I’ve survived three school districts, more than a half-dozen superintendents and eight principals. Every year, I’ve struggled to show that somehow my work matters in my classroom and my student publications.

No interchangeable widget here. No sirree, Missy. Not me.

Along the way, I’ve managed to stay married to one man, raised my own two children, gained weight, lost weight, battled a kidney disease, watched cancer erase both parents, walked 60 miles for the Three-Day for the Cure, written a book, championed the First Amendment and become fearless.

Most importantly, during that time, I’ve had the privilege of engaging in the education of hundreds of children, and because of them, I’ve become a better, stronger person – one who cannot and will not be unceremoniously reduced to a widget.

And so because I am too stubborn to succumb to The Widget Effect, this year marks the end of my career in public education. Twenty-seven years has earned me a graceful exit rather than a retreat. No white flags here. I may not have prevailed, but I have endured.

That’s probably the best outcome anyone could hope for in a broken system waiting to get fixed. The assembly line may have beaten Lucy, but it didn’t break me.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You made a real difference in my life. I know alot is not a word, thanks to you. I also learned that no matter where you are in the world, if you hit MLK Blvd, you're in trouble. That's saved my butt more than once.
/notawidgeteither
Ann
Year 1, AKA: the ones who broke her in!

Chris Ransbottom said...

This is very sad to me but something I, and anyone who has ever had the privilege of taking a class from you, can say is hardly a surprise. It is true Ritchie style and it is unfortunate that other students will not have the opportunity to learn from someone who is passionate and pushes for nothing short of your best. It was an honor being able to take 2 years of classes with you and there isn't a day that goes by where I don't think back on high school and your classes are among the first memories that pop into my head. I look at the product of your class in yearbooks and newspapers with pride and then look at my roommates yearbooks and wonder how the heck you took such a strange group of people and used us to produce something amazing. You are no doubt among my favorite teachers I have ever had and I commend you for going out with a bang like we all expected you to do. Good luck in whatever it is you decide to pursue, I'm afraid to ask "What will she do next?"

Chris Ransbottom said...

This is very sad to me but something I, and anyone who has ever had the privilege of taking a class from you, can say is hardly a surprise. It is true Ritchie style and it is unfortunate that other students will not have the opportunity to learn from someone who is passionate and pushes for nothing short of your best. It was an honor being able to take 2 years of classes with you and there isn't a day that goes by where I don't think back on high school and your classes are among the first memories that pop into my head. I look at the product of your class in yearbooks and newspapers with pride and then look at my roommates yearbooks and wonder how the heck you took such a strange group of people and used us to produce something amazing. You are no doubt among my favorite teachers I have ever had and I commend you for going out with a bang like we all expected you to do. Good luck in whatever it is you decide to pursue, I'm afraid to ask "What will she do next?"

Pat Hensley said...

Retirement is wonderful! I'm still learning new things and involved in education on my own terms. I do a lot of volunteer work and help individual teachers. I do as much as I want when I want to. I find myself busier now then when I worked but I'm enjoying myself so much more! Good luck! I hope you continue to blog about your new adventures!

Sarah Ebner said...

I can't believe it! Wanted to wish you all the very best for the future. I hope you will continue blogging. I know you will miss your students and am absolutely sure they will miss you. Good luck Carol.

Kelsey Medina said...

I would like to personally thank you for not only trusting me somehow and some way to be an editor of yours for a year, but for also leading me to my major in journalism, and even to helping me pick my career. It seems every week someone argues with me that journalism is dying and that I am insane for picking news writing, but I like to just think of you as my teacher and think there isn't too much wrong with being insane if it means doing what I love. I may have never gotten to express to you the difference you made in my learning because I was too much of an immature brat at the time, but you made such an impact on me. I dreaded any kind of writing I was forced to do until I was drafted by a stranger into your world of publications at the high school. By my junior year, I was basically begging for my assignments to be writing ones, because it became the only thing I really felt good at and comfortable with. I am sitting here pulling another all-nighter, writing a paper for another summer course that I am positive I am only taking in order to get further in school and closer to my dream job as a journalist. All thanks to you I am working my butt off for what people call a dying profession, but I have faith it will pay off, and I owe that mindset to you. I am glad you are getting out of the school system by the way, you aren't a widget, you are the generator of the generations that have gotten to take a class with you. If they can't realize it, they don't deserve you. It will be hilarious to see how publications go without you there. And thanks for always being real with your students. Although there were moments we weren't grateful for signing up for your classes, it always paid off when I realized how brave and talented you were when we accomplished our job. Not to mention I appreciated that someone could finally shut my loud mouth up in a classroom setting.