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NEVER WAS A TEACHER'S JOB EASY, BUT TODAY'S LOAD OF 'EXTRAS' CAN MAKE IT OVERWHELMING

For the first time in 50 years, I did not go back to school this September. After three decades of teaching high school English and countless other experiences in school settings throughout my life, I have packed away all the school paraphernalia and will kick back now and join in life as it occurs on the "outside."

The "outside," of course, is the real world of adult conversation, civilized hours of employment and a life not regulated by the clanging of a bell every 50 minutes.

I hope to enjoy the pleasures of lunch at a local restaurant, though more than likely, I'll find myself chomping down my food in 22 minutes, out of habit.

My own writing ambitions may now turn to personal creative and non-fiction pieces instead of scouring for errors in the writing output of 84 research papers.

When the opportunity for retirement arose, I jumped at the chance.

It was not for a fancy monetary incentive that I packed up a portion of the files and materials I had accumulated in 34 years. (Three-quarters of it went to an opportunistic and bright new teacher who asked: "Can I have your stuff?")

It was not for bitter feelings that I harbored against a school system that had allowed teachers to work for almost two years without a teaching contract.

It was not because of new and innovative teaching methods being introduced time and time again as new and innovative, although I learned after the first 10 years of teaching that there truly is "nothing new under the sun."

And it was certainly not because of the supposedly unruly, fractious, overindulged and low-achieving students that the education journals and the experts had said I was teaching. The students in our schools today, as an entity, are not the problem in education.

I retired because it was time to shrug off the responsibilities of parenting, mothering, counseling and mentoring that have so overburdened the classroom teacher.

Teachers are the guardians of the citizen student; in our hands are the heads and hearts of the future. We invite young people into our classrooms; we mold, shape and help them define themselves; we ask them to engage in a learning situation with us, maintain a demeanor appropriate for the teaching of concepts; and we test them on what they have assimilated from what we've shared with them.

We help them with their interpersonal skills and demonstrate the importance of sharing and cooperating and appreciating each other.

We seize a "teachable moment" to demonstrate kindness when an inflammatory exchange between two students ignites. We further overload our duties by recommending some after-school counseling.

We talk about the dangers of drinking and driving, we teach the perils of drug use, we discuss interracial attitudes, teen-age pregnancy, parental prerogatives and what to do after graduation.

And that's just one day. We can't forget about the assemblies for "Prom Promise," the forum on sexual harassment that each English teacher will lead because we "see" every high school student or the pause before class while we listen as students check the progress of a classmate who will be delivering her baby immediately after graduation.

In the meantime, English, math, social studies, foreign language, cooking, computer training, speech, writing and many other courses are more or less thrust into the middle of these life lessons.

The philosophy prevalent among educators today is that if kids don't get life-skill lessons in school, "where are they going to get it?" Parents, too, want teachers' help in preparing children for life. Yet we all wonder how we can possibly cram so much into one day, one semester, one school year.

It is an impossible task and also one for which no teacher is paid a princely sum -- or an adequate sum. I believe no teacher in America is paid what they are truly worth.

Though I am on the "outside" now, I look at what stays the same in education (for I think things are unlikely to change) and think of Helen Keller, a great teacher who said: "I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they are great and noble."

For 30 years, armed to the teeth with bachelor's and master's degrees and extra graduate course-work in English, I thought that I was involved in the noble effort of transferring what I knew to others.

Instead, teaching became a sociological drama that changed every day and that expected more and more of the English teacher, the French teacher, the calculus instructor and other nobly inspired members of the profession who get up every day and go to school, believing they will somehow make a difference . . . until they arrive and find in their teacher mailbox another memo dealing with "Parenting in the Classroom."

Retirement is a gift today's teacher is given for a refresher course in sensible living.

SALLY STAUFFER retired in June from teaching high-school English in Jamestown.

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