Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yep, It's Over...Today was my last class after 40 years of teaching!

I had four wonderful retirement parties: one with the ERFT teachers' union; one with the English and Visual and Performing Arts department; one at the El Rancho High School end of year party; and one at our home last Saturday. Each was very flattering and deeply moving. I am humbled and gratified by the outpouring of heart-warming accolades and best wishes. If you read the previous blog, much of what follows will be redundant, but these are the words that I had written down during the day to share with the folks at the ERHS faculty end of year party:

I have a huge number of people to whom I am indebted. I started teaching in the Whittier Union HS District in 1971. I am indebted to Roger Weeks, former El Rancho Administrator, for hiring me at Sierra High School. He hired me because I told him that I thought reading was the single most important skill that kids needed, and when he asked, “How will you get kids to read?” I answered, “Any way I can…If they’ll read comic books, then I’ll have them read comic books.” He hired me on the spot.

I retired from teaching after 3 years in the Whittier District in order to play music, but a series of fortuitous coincidences found me returning to Southern California with Carolyn, the love of my life, and returning to teaching. I subbed daily for Whittier, Rowland, and Whittier City districts, but my first call from El Rancho came the first day of the infamous El Rancho strike. I worked that day, but I refused to return until the strike was over.

I have Tom Cunningham to thank for convincing the Principal at the time, Bill Payne, that despite my long hair, I seemed to be a good teacher.

Dick Reinbolt, who had created a class called “Murder, Mystery, and Science Fiction,” was quitting to write screenplays and run a Pioneer Chicken stand, and he insisted to the administration that I be his replacement.

Anne Sonnefield (later Anne Eichman) tapped me to help create a new American Studies Junior Honors team with two of the finest teachers I have ever known, Doug Anderson and Carolyn Clemons. Several of the people in this room matriculated through that team. The three of us taught for nearly twenty-years, and Doug and I have taught together for over thirty years.

I am indebted to my friend, Ben Rich for getting me more directly involved in the ERFT and for suggesting me for the bargaining team, and I am indebted to former Union Presidents Sid Apley and Marcia Hall for trusting me to work with the bargaining team.

To my good friend, Grace Nakamura, one of the most effusive personalities I ever met, for her dedication to the GATE program and to the continued improvement of all students.

I am very deeply indebted to my good friend, Julie Ellis, for putting great faith in me on many levels and for working so diligently to improve the quality of education at El Rancho.

Finally, a special nod to one of my heroes, my friend, Ralph “Jim” Kane, the instructional manager of social studies for many years. He used to walk briskly around campus with his thin tie swinging in the air and a little hint of Maalox on his lips; he took the Maalox to quell what he thought was indigestion, but which he didn’t take enough time for himself to figure out that it was, in fact, pancreatic cancer and that it would eventually do him in. After his passing, I wore a tie for quite a few years in his honor before reverting to my official uniform. Jim and I had many lengthy conversations about education and learning. Jim insisted, “Every kid can learn! But not at the same speed, and not in the same way.” He was dedicated to trying to find different methodologies that could meet the needs of different kids.

Sadly, in this day of matrices, pacing guides, and high-stakes testing, we have lost sight of what teaching and learning really are. Teaching and Journalism used to be two of the most respected and revered professions. But over the last forty years, the job and goal of journalism has been distorted and perverted; Orwell’s double-speak has increased exponentially into at least quadruple-speak. We now live in a world that makes Alice’s looking glass world seem quite rational in comparison. Unfettered greed has fomented an assault on workers in general, public workers in particular, and teachers most specifically.

Efficiency and Productivity have become perverted into “make people work much harder for much less compensation.”

Schools are not factories, and kids are not products to be stamped out by assembly lines. Teaching is an Art—and like other arts, it takes a mixture of talent and skill—different artists use different techniques, skills, passions, and sensibilities. More importantly, and a thing we forget when we see “business” as the goal of our “product,” is that our works of art are our students—and they are truly unique works of art because they must be empowered to be participants in their own creation. Cookie cutter curriculum turning out cookie cutter kids cannot be our goal. Sadly, and too often, good “workers” are not necessarily good people; however, good people are always, necessarily, good workers.

I thank all of you for all the dedication and hard work that you give to so many children who are not your own but whose lives you help change for the better. Keep being the artists that you are!

The Greatest threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!

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