Friday, February 14, 2014

“Extended Family”

            I worked for the same school district for my entire thirty year career. The younger teachers I know who joined the district during this last ten years often asked how I survived in such a hostile environment, and I found myself explaining over and over again that the district had grown into dysfunction only after we’d gone through a string of narcissistic superintendents concerned more with their personal agendas than with education.
            I told these teachers about the extended family that wove throughout our schools. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children all became partners in educating every child. Our high school won national recognition as a Blue Ribbon campus one year, and became a New American High School in 2000. Our pride extended beyond the football field or basketball court, and the faculty and staff from all of our campuses had a hand in creating a thriving learning environment. We had core educators who mentored new teachers because they cared.
            I described to these newer teachers how our leadership trusted the campus principals to make choices that would benefit the entire learning community. They did not micro-manage. Our principals were given freedom to pull their teachers into the decision making process. Imagine having input over every element of your curriculum! If I needed something to make me a better teacher, I knew I could walk into all of those open administrative doors and simply ask. I couldn’t always get what I wanted, but I know they tried to keep me happy. Because the emotional health of teachers can make or break a school.
            Through the majority of my years in education, I had the good fortune to work with the same core administrators and faculty. And although there may have been disagreements, those squabbles never caused permanent rifts. And “the powers that be” didn’t play god and shuffle administration and faculty around from campus to campus when there were problems. Everyone stayed put and figured out a way through those difficulties. We worked together (sometimes tirelessly).
            We were family.
            We celebrated weddings, births and adoptions. We applauded at graduations and performances. We cheered each other up on the bad days, and rejoiced with one another on the good years.
            We were family.
            We cried over broken hearts, scraped knees, and lost dreams. We mourned together, too.
            Our losses began slowly. But those wonderful educators who dedicated their lives to making me a better teacher are now in their seventies and eighties.
            Yesterday, my extended family lost another member. My heart aches for her family; her husband who reminded me to make my day a good one, her children who sat in our classrooms, and contributed to our district as adults. I grieve because other educators will never benefit from this dynamic woman’s advice and encouragement. And I’m saddened for I fear that the problems within our educational system exist because the bonds among faculties no longer grow into strong ties that pull teachers permanently into each other’s lives. There is no family.
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

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