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Heaven bound: retired teachers


Mary Jane Owen

  In the 2010 session of the Georgia Legislature, the Sunday “commencing” the third week in November was set aside for honoring Georgia’s retired teachers. Most, if not all of Henry County’s municipalities, along with the various Commissions, have set aside November 3 as the official day to honor this group. That is appreciated but is the least that can be done.

  If you know me personally, casually, or even slightly, you know that I am/was a teacher, now retired as my bio clearly states. Moreover, I am one of four generations to have taught and this isn’t counting my daughter, mother, sister, aunts, cousins, close friends as well as not-so-close relations who are or have been teachers. Clearly I’m about to toot our horns for which I ask no forgiveness. Frankly I’m in a position to do just that and I will not let the opportunity to do so pass me by.

  Often we get a bad rap which sometimes may be deserved. I am only too aware that many folks did not or do not always just love school and love their teachers. I recall some in my lifetime that I did not like, several who did not like me, and a few who seemed to hate what they did, too often displacing their attitude on the students. Not good, but fortunately pretty rare.

  For so many years, including those during which I was choosing a career, teaching was one of the all too few post high school employment that women could pursue. I never doubted for one minute that it was really what I thought I was best suited to do. Job opportunities for women are quite abundant now and young women are taking advantage of their choices. Still, many young women and men (thank goodness) chose to teach. Our numbers today include a variety of ages, backgrounds, geographic regions, all of whom have made the pool of educators much richer. Thank goodness for that because the challenges of the past fifty to sixty years have required the best and the brightest.

  Realize that among the current group of retired teachers were the ones who helped to make the civil rights legislation become a reality. I consider that those who were the first of their race to break the traditions and bounds of culture were heroes and heroines of our profession. That could not have been easy. My very first job as a teacher was in the local Head Start program of 1965. I hate to admit that I actually attempted to teach kindergarten because I had absolutely no affinity for small children, but it was a job and I needed one. During that very hot summer we took the participants to Grant Park Zoo. Integrated groups of any sort were very rare. Disdain over this change proved to be only too true when my group encountered a man and woman who openly expressed their disgust of integration right in the faces of my children. For once I did not give way to my combative nature; my better angels were with me and I simply and quickly distracted the students hoping they could ignore the offense.

  But my little experience was not what others who taught “real” school encountered. Sadly what they and subsequent teachers would face would be mind numbing. It was not the challenge of working with the children. Not a’tall.  A list of what our very own retired teachers have each and every one endured are the many educational reform movements, euphemisms for “the program de jour.” Let me start with only a few that many have tried their very best to implement successfully: Behavioral Modification (Behavioral Objectives), Mastery Learning, Effective Schools, Effective Teaching, A Nation at Risk, Quality Basic Education (QBE), Quality Core Curriculum (QCC),Georgia Performance Standards (GPS),  No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and now Twenty First Century. The list goes on ad nauseum and I can remember only a few. How would you do if every year or so, the rules and the vocabulary of the game were changed in your job? Each idea promises to be better than the previous attempts at educating our young. And the final indignity, is knowing that your worth and perhaps your compensation or lack thereof, will be measured quantitatively! Many cannot take it and leave, discouraged. Remember teachers do not make the rules, but they are expected to follow the lead of those who doubtless think they understand the nature and joy of learning. I call them “bean counters.” All GOOD teachers understand that teaching requires a depth of knowledge, compassion, commitment and passion delivered every day, rain or shine, unrelentingly in sickness and in health. The really good ones know that worthwhile, compelling learning is FUN or ought to be, and furthermore very likely cannot be captured by statistical data. It is for these teachers who have struggled every day despite the criticism and predictable, constant change, that I think applause is required.

  Now, down to the nitty gritty. It is teachers who often wipe noses, pull teeth, teach personal hygiene, manners, dry tears, settle conflicts, bandage wounds. They have dug deep in their pockets and spent money on supplies and equipment, while sometimes being on the receiving end of criticism from those parents who children have needed to be “redirected”, (They are not all perfect no matter what mom and dad may think).  As to the big picture, teachers have too often born the charge that they are the cause of many of our social ills. How hard it is to avoid fighting back? Certainly most do not do it for the money. Heaven knows, but most do it because they really like what they do, feel that they make a difference despite the obstacles, and most even love kids. Imagine that!

  It is not my business or anybody else’s for that matter to determine who gets to the Pearly Gates. But for my former teachers anyway, given the challenge that I presented, and knowing many that did not teach me, I think a fine case can be made that most of these dear pedagogues and many thousands more have earned their fluffy clouds, harps and of course their wings.

  Mary Jane Owen is a veteran educator. She has two children and one grandson. She’s an avid Braves fan, reads, writes, and gardens.




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