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Letter: End of teaching career is bittersweet moment

End of teaching career is bittersweet moment

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” and who can beat the bard in the exquisiteness of expression? For me, leaving the teaching profession after close to 30 years is exactly that, remembering the joys and feeling the sadness of letting them go. Early in my tour of duty and new to the chaos of a classroom, I screeched out, “Order, order right now!” An obedient student called out, “I’ll have a ham sandwich.” And so it went through the years.

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has, like a mirror, shown me the deeper understanding for why I’ve stayed with the commitment to enliven learning in young minds. Selfishly, teaching others has always been an invigorating experience for my own self-examination. When in times of exasperation, when the mud in the trenches is overwhelming and the call is to “go over the top” – and the war analogies are fitting for the veterans in distressed public schools – Atticus’ warning that “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” becomes a haunting voice of conscience. The explanation to Scout: “They don’t do one thing … but sing their hearts out for us” resonates with the confirmation that yes, a passionate commitment to awakening the minds of the young to their ability to learn is why you are here. And so the years have passed.

What still troubles me is the fifth column: Those politicians who put forth standardized testing so campaign contributions could flow. The credentialed bureaucrats who blame teachers for low test scores, low graduation rates and humiliate them with annual professional performance reviews, possibly leading to dismissals.

The federal and state education policies are “shooting the troops.” As educator and historian Diane Ravitch asked, “Why would a nation attack its teachers?” It’s a sin, you know.

Ray Peterson