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Tribute to Retiring Teacher

The following is an informal speech I made during the staff luncheon on our last teacher work day of the 2014-2015.  I had to write out my words to be sure I said what I wanted to say, didn’t get emotional, and didn’t ramble.  Having worked with Larry for three years in a collab class, and known him for my eleven years at the school, this was the hardest person to see go.  I wanted to share this as a final tribute to this wonderful man, and I also think it represents the relationship that develops even when we are hesitant to co-teach with others in our building.

Back in late March, Larry made an off-handed comment about May 5th being his last day.  I thought about it, and then obsessed, knowing that the man still had about 406 sick days left.  I then sent him an email telling him that if he was really considering this that I needed to know for sure because I had to mentally and emotionally prepare myself.  Not because I couldn’t teach the kids, mind you.  I just wasn’t ready to let Larry go yet.

When I was first told I was going to teach a collab class, I was concerned because I’m too much of a control freak.  We all know the first step is admitting you have a problem, though.  Julie, who worked with Larry just the year before and knew his wife as well, responded to my concern by saying, “Well his wife is a little like that, so you’ll probably get along fine.”  My thought to that was, Oh, this poor man.

So Larry, I’ve really tried.  This probably should be an apology letter since you had to put up with me.  Having worked together in a classroom for the past three years, you probably know me better than anyone else here.  Good and bad, you still agreed to work with me this year.  Thank you.

I will cherish every time that you or I made a joke in the room and you and I were the only ones who laughed.  I will never forget student M. bringing his penguin to school, and we looked over during announcements to see Mr. Penguin and student M. sitting side-by-side, listening quietly.  I’m sure you will not miss being called by the office out of my classroom to “meet a student” somewhere.  I learned later that this is code for:  “miscellaneous accidents to be dealt with.”  I will miss tag-teaming our non-workers, non-writers, or kids like student R. who decide that he can focus better by kneeling on the floor and putting his head through the back of the chair.  (I loved how that day both of us had just stopped, frozen, looking at him as if to say, “What the heck, kid?”)  And there was that one day this year when I didn’t have much patience (or maybe I missed a medication dose) and made a sarcastic comment just to you.  I remember you taking a step back to the hamster’s cage and saying (just loud enough for me and the hamster to hear): “Run! Run Away Now!”  Out of all the times I can name, I will remember laughing with just you or with all the students we have taught.

I have learned so many things from you in these years of talking, observing, and co-teaching.  It is impossible to put them into words.  You are the person who I felt comfortable asking for an opinion and/or advice.  You’ve always answered me in a way that has been honest, but always additionally helpful; constructively critical, but never cruel.  You have a way of seeing good where there might only be seeds of potential.  This is the gift of a true teacher and the reason students have loved you all these years.  It is the reason I have grown to love you as well these past few years and to call you my friend as well as colleague and mentor.

And so I cannot say goodbye.  I won’t.  I will say best wishes to you, and I will say thank you, Larry.  Thank you for all you have done for our students, for this staff, and for me.

And now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Mr. Carson, from Downton Abbey (a favorite of Larry’s).  I looked at Larry one day in the classroom, and he had his hand folded up like a servant for some strange reason.  I told him that he reminded me of Mr. Carson, and Larry said, “That’s the nicest compliment you can give me.”

Well, Mr. Carson has said: “The business of life is the acquisition of memories; in the end that’s all there is.”  You have given me so many great memories, Larry, and I’m sure you take many wonderful memories from your teaching

Receiving his recognition at district retirement breakfast 6/8/15.

Receiving his recognition at district retirement breakfast 6/8/15.

years.  But it’s not the end.  Go now and enjoy your retirement full of adventures and new memories!

copyright Trevor L Moon 2015

Summer: Why Teachers Teach, Right?

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Ocean Front Fishing Pier; Virginia Beach, VA

Yes, it is that time of year that every teacher has been waiting for, right? The countdown to our summer days has begun! If you are like me, you will have at least two months (well, sort of) off from work. I rarely take it for granted, and I sometimes feel guilty as I try to explain the necessity.

I will never forget my supervising teacher telling me the story of her colleague who applied for a new position only to swear she was passed by because of one mistake she made in the interview. When asked, “Why did you become a teacher?”

She replied, “June, July, and August, of course!” She was joking, of course, but I suppose the administrator interviewing her did not find it humorous and chose someone who appeared more “committed” rather than jovial.

The fact that school teachers, along with their students, have summers off is a wonderful benefit to choosing a career as an educator. I am not a parent myself, but this can be ideal for those who work full-time and have children. There are other professions that follow a nine-ten month schedule similar to school systems, such as organizations and businesses that work directly with schools during prime season. For example, my sister works for a company that arranges tours in Washington, D. C., for school groups across the country, and many of its employees have summers free due to this being their “down time.”

Some might say, and there are days I wouldn’t argue, that teachers are in need of these two months (I guess we used to have three, but now we have less.) to regroup from the mental and physical agony of the school year. Yeah. It is rough out there some days! The things I see and hear in those middle school hallways… And I’m just talking about the adults! Not really. As with any job, there are rough days. Everyone needs a vacation from time to time.

The months that teachers have off in the summer, I believe, is for extended reflection time.

I am, by nature, a reflective person, but going through my coursework in education, reflection was a process that was reinforced in my role as a teacher. I was told to think back on how each lesson was during my student teaching months. Were the students engaged? Was the lesson effective? What were the strengths and weaknesses? How would I do things differently? By the time December came during my first year of teaching, I was already preparing myself for how I would start out the year differently in the future school years to come. Reflection has become an unconscious colleague to my ever-working professional brain. (I have the stack of sticky notes to prove it, too!)

In Kenneth Bernstein’s article “The Reflective Practice of Teaching,” he mentions that, as a National Board Certified Teacher(NBCT), teachers follow the Five Core Propositions. The fourth is “teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience” (ASCD, 2015). Reflection is a process that I cannot imagine not doing as I move through my weeks and months of each school year. It makes sense that to be a certified Master Teacher one would have completely grasped the skill of reflection and process of changing his/her teaching methods and habits based on the knowledge gained.

For teachers like me, I need not only the days into weeks and weeks in months to reflect and make alterations. Oh, I make adjustments to what I am teaching and changes to my own methods as my students are assessed and the environment of the classroom shows a need for change. I reflect and make changes throughout the year as I need to, but I also end the year with some basic overall questions such as: What am I doing right? What can I change? What can I add?

This is not me being the forever pessimist. No. This is me being the forever learner. This is not the perfectionist, but the reflective teacher.

For each August, as those workdays show up on the calendar (Earlier every year, right?), I feel like a student who is once again going back to a new year in school. Unlike my students, though, I am in the same grade. Faces are different. Some things are similar. I’m a little the same and a little different. I’m excited for a new school year. And then, let the new reflections begin!

copyright Trevor L Moon 2015

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ASCD. (2015). The Whole Child. Retrieved from
http://www.wholechildeducation.org/blog/the-reflective-practice-of-teaching