The experience of 30 years in the classroom

September 7, 2013 

Syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda suggests high-energy teachers who flame out after two years are actually a good thing for kids. Cepeda claims their “energy and enthusiasm encompassed a whole world of actions and sacrifices that no lifer would purposely undertake.”

But the “energy and enthusiasm” and “actions and sacrifices” she attributes only to short termers describes my entire career. Unlike Cepeda, who gave up after two years, I lasted 30 as a secondary teacher, gaining sustenance and energy from an exhausting work week that went from dawn to well beyond dusk. And weekends. And summers planning, unpaid. Fifty hours was a short work week.

I was the go-to guy when newbies needed mentoring. I read study after study, often cutting edge, incorporating them into a coherent educational approach that evolved over the decades. My experience allowed me to stand on a more equal footing with administrators, who often allowed me to forge my own path because they respected my track record.

I often spent at least several thousand of my own dollars per year, because public schools can’t fund everything teachers need.

When I was awarded teacher of the year in a large urban high school in Southern California after 21 years in the profession, I taught at-risk kids everyone else had given up on. I visited the home of every student twice. Was I a better teacher at that point than after my first two years? Unquestionably.

I don’t think I’m that different from many veteran teachers I worked with, who joyfully gave of their time and energy in the face of endless new mandates, standardized tests, and ever-rising class sizes.

Sure, there are teachers who shouldn’t be in the profession. Some merely punch the clock. But you find that in any field, and the most teachers are dedicated.

I came relatively late to teaching. After a brief career in journalism, public school teaching became my chosen profession. It was a mature decision, and one I’ve never regretted, even though I took a drastic pay cut.

IRA WEST

Modesto

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