Tonight was the retirement reception of the elder statesman of our department, a man who has given over thirty years of his life to Baltimore City Public Schools and eighteen years to our school. When I first moved to Baltimore, I didn't know anyone, but this man - also from the midwest, also from a Big-10 school - always made me feel at home. This was one of the things I said in my toast to him tonight, as we sat in our circle and helped him end his career.
The thing that struck me most was another colleague, who said - quite accurately - that this man was the "conscience of our school." And he is. As I've had several conflicts over the last two years, he was always the one I went to first. His cut-through-the-bullshit, put-the-kids-first advice always hit home in just the right way. Part of his ability to be our collective conscience came not only from his sage wisdom, but also from his balls-to-the-wall attitude. He was late into his career, he knew it, and he didn't care to be part of any of the bullshit that this school system, guided by an accursed hand (as he said tonight), seems to be so fond of. These benchmarks that came last week, the forced final exam that the school system is paying millions for to just recycle publically released questions? He told us we should throw it back in their faces. He could do that, because he was untouchable.
It was this combination of guts and wisdom that we'll miss the most.
As for me, though, I'm not untouchable. But I'm thinking of adopting a mindset for next year that, in at least a certain way, I am. I don't want to do anything at all that I think might be at odds with preparing these kids for college and for the world. This doesn't mean I'll ignore external assessments, even bullshit ones, but it does mean that I'll have the balls to do what's right, and not cater to the whims of the midguided minds at North Avenue. I will, for example, not give a benchmark to students that is designed to see if kids are being prepared for an assessment that they have already taken, complete with questions that they've already seen!
I'm not sure if I'll adopt this balls-to-the-wall attitude definitely, but it is an interesting proposition - one that could only be adopted if it truly was my last year teaching at this school. Which is a distinct possibility, still, unless things get better. I refuse to stay at this school because of inertia and fond memories, and if I leave, it will be doing what is right.
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