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!

For those who didn't get this note at Christmas here was the preview:

Well, it looks like it’s time to hang up the old piece of chalk...
Teaching at El Rancho circa 1981

I mean the “low-odor, chisel-tipped, dry-erase marker!”

Yep, after 40 years of teaching, “Mr. McMullen” is calling it quits. 

I spent most of those forty years thinking that I might never retire, yet there clearly comes a point when the scales tip and the unimaginable becomes the inevitable and then, in short order, the imminently desirable.
For those of you who don’t know, I already retired once after only three years of teaching. That time it was to play music, and who knows, it might be part of the reason this time, too. That last time, though, I came back fairly quickly for several reasons, but the main one was that I really enjoyed teaching. I am very proud to say that, after forty years, I still truly enjoy it. 
My first year of teaching at Sierra HS, my second year at Santa Fe,  and my third year at La Serna

I have had an incredible career. I have taught over twenty-five courses, and I have had the unique opportunity to conceive and create at least fifteen different courses including Advertising, Mass Media, Speech, Romantic American Lit, Fantasy and Sci-fi, Intro to Poetry, VISTA, and most recently, Creative Writing and Video Production. I have been privileged to work with creative administrators and directors like Roger Weeks at Sierra and Anne Eichman, David Verdugo, and my good friends, Julie Ellis, Ben Rich, Felicity Swerdlow, and Grace Nakamura at El Rancho, who repeatedly gave me these creative opportunities. 

Even more remarkably, I have spent over thirty years of my career team-teaching; that is, I have been allowed to work directly in the classroom with fellow teachers, fantastic teachers like John Crone, Diane Kuramoto, and my American Studies team-mates: my dear friend and master teacher, Carolyn Clemons, for twenty years; and my inseparable partner and incomparable teacher for all of those thirty-plus years, Doug Anderson. As an Honors Team teacher, I have been honored to work with several generations of the most gifted and motivated students. 

As a speech teacher, newsstaff advisor, creative writing teacher, and video production instructor, I have had the privilege to work intimately with hundreds of terrifically talented and creative young people. When the Academic Decathlon was first introduced to our school, under the direction of my friend Doug Anderson, I was offered the opportunity to coach the decathlon team in Language and Literature. I have been alllowed to work with some amazing students for the last twenty-five years, and though I take no credit at all for their achievements, I couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments.
Teaching Murder, Mystery and Science Fiction at El Rancho

I was a Mentor Teacher for sixteen years, the entire duration of the program, so I had the chance to work with many young and gifted teachers. Many of my students have returned to El Rancho to become my colleagues and truly outstanding teachers, a fact that makes me very proud. 

When I started kindergarten at four years old, people began asking, “What do you want to be?” Even by that young age, my father was encouraging me to consider being a lawyer (an aspiration of his, thwarted by the realities of a stint in the military and the raising of a family). So, whenever I was asked the question, I said, “A lawyer or a teacher.” You can see whose dream won that one, but my parents have always supported my choices, and at 86, when they pause for a moment from their globe-trotting (seriously...they are awesome), they still support those choices, including this one. [It’s one thing to grow old, but what must it feel like to have your kid retire? Since we don’t have kids, I won’t have to feel that one!] 

As for the lawyering? Well, over twenty-five years ago, my good friend, Ben Rich, invited me to become a Union Rep, then a year or so later, he asked me to be on the bargaining team. I have been proud to represent the El Rancho Federation of Teachers ever since then. It may not be lawyering, but it is certainly interesting and challenging. I have had the pleasure of serving under four ERFT presidents: Nancy Miller, Sid Apley, Marcia Hall, and Rico Tamayo (five counting Laura Rico’s brief tenure), and I am grateful for the trust that they have put in me for these remarkably tumultuous years. My first day of subbing for El Rancho in 1975 was the first day of the El Rancho strike (and it was my last until the strike was over—they didn’t tell the subs that the teachers were on strike). Now, as I prepare to leave, I hear that the La Habra teachers are out on strike...Gee, maybe I should try to sub there—when the strike is over; there might be a career in there somewhere. I also especially thank my fellow reps, Lilia Carreon and Jim Halley, for all that they do for the union and the teachers; and I thank the teachers of El Rancho High School and El Rancho Unified School District for their commitment and for their support through all these years.

I want to thank Natalie Zucker and her late husband for creating the Zucker Teacher of the Year Award and for selecting me, along with Rosie Aragon, as the first co-recipient. Her decision to give back to the teachers who taught her children continues to be a significant inspiration.

I am also the last remaining active “Charter” member of the ABA, the teachers and coaches who have played basketball at lunch for the last few decades. I can’t thank enough all of those players, past and present, who have given me some of the most joyous thirty minutes of the last thirty years. I couldn’t have made it without that little bit of daily respite; and especially in these last few years, thanks for putting up with the knees and my top of the key to the top of the key, walking game. I really appreciate the camaraderie and the play. It is a tradition worth keeping.

A recent "teacher" photo from El Rancho

I want to thank those dear friends and colleagues who retired and those who moved on: Ralph “Jim” Kane, Maureen Hourigan, and Barbara Miller; Grace Nakamura and Dan Vandevier Yoshimoto; Carolyn Clemons, Diane Kuramoto, Ben Rich, and Marcia Hall; Nancy Lawrence, Steve Kennedy; Dick Reinbolt, Gary Barton, Connie Diaz, Jim Dyson; Sandra Espinoza and Cheryl Milas; Carolyn Martens, George Sturr, and Diana Malazian; Paul McKillop and Mako Tashima. I want to thank all those classified staff, past and present, who make the school and district run. Unfortunately, I will leave out scores more than I can include, but I want to particularly thank those special folks who are still at The Ranch, those people who have made the drudgery disappear and have made my time at El Rancho such a pleasure, including Doug Anderson, Lil Carreon, Jim Halley, Stan Wlasick, Charissa and Paul Zeko, John Crone, Jim Sorenson, Dawn Lam, Claire Katsumura, Val Kiralla, Christina Padilla, and Belinda Larrache, I say to you all, as Emerson said, “...Nor knowest thou what argument/Thy life to thy neighbor’s creed has lent.” Now you know!

And, there you have it—the big (or should I say, “long-winded”) retirement announcement (and life story). I hope this season finds you well and enjoying the things that you have chosen for vocation and recreation. All the best, Tim