Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Time To Leave

Time to leave teaching. It’s been thirty-six years - two in Lowell, Massachusetts teaching juvenile delinquents and thirty-four in Maine public schools. I’m going to miss it because I love teaching US History and current events to fourteen-year-olds, most days. They can be trying sometimes. When I tell people what age I’ve taught, they often say, “God bless you. I could never do that.”

What I’d come to like about fourteen-year-olds is that they’re capable of learning virtually anything and most of what I teach they’re hearing about for the first time. They don’t have many biases or preconceived ideas about the wider world and they’re very bright. Each year I’ve realized that many are brighter than I am. But I’ve been around longer. I’ve had more time and opportunities to learn, often the hard way. When I teach them classic concepts, they ask extremely perceptive questions I never hear in discussions with jaded adults. Their questions have forced me to consider fresh perspectives on ancient enigmas and those have been my biggest rewards in this work. When I didn’t enjoy teaching, it was often because of some fault of my own - usually my attitude.

Never did expect to be at it so long, but that’s how it unfolded. There were times I wanted to do something else but circumstances prevented career change. Twenty-five years ago, I was diagnosed with a medical condition for which I needed several expensive surgeries, each requiring about six weeks of recovery. With a young family, a mortgage and a pre-existing condition, no other insurance company would take me on. So, for a while, I felt stuck in the job. That wasn’t good for me or for my students until I managed to I change my attitude by counting my blessings - of which there have been many.

For the past few years I’ve met with a retired history teacher to chat about the trade. I asked him how he knew when to give it up. “When the time comes, you just know,” he said, but it didn’t feel right the last time we had lunch. My five-year teaching license was due to expire in July and I went through the process to renew it.

Soon after doing that, however, I went to CPAC - the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, for the fifth time. I renewed contacts and new opportunities opened up. I decided to call the Maine Public Employees Retirement Service and inquire about what my pension would look like if this were my last year.

The numbers didn’t point to a cushy life with medical insurance looming as the biggest expense. The economy doesn’t look promising for the foreseeable future either, but I could be dead by the time that changes. My wife and I are physically in good shape right now and we have no debts. She’s gotten her counseling practice down to a manageable pace, and I’ve been the one who is too busy. I’ve maintained a small property-management business for the past twenty-six years and written a regular weekly column for twenty, and I intend to continue with both. My income will diminish. I won’t be able to travel as often, but I’ll have time to pursue other interests which I expect to enjoy more than teaching.

There’s at least one book in me about what it’s been like as a controversial columnist in the same community where I’ve taught. Early in my career I was a liberal and I annoyed conservatives. Then I morphed into a conservative and annoyed liberals, who have been by far the most intolerant of opposing views. Public education is a very liberal profession which doesn’t abide conservatives well, so it’s been lonely. I started writing the book a few years ago but my life has been just too busy to make any progress. I’ve saved most of the paperwork generated by adversaries - most of it in the form of letters to various principals, superintendents, the school board, the state licensing board, and so forth. There are angry letters to the editor from various newspapers in which my column has appeared, and they number well into the hundreds. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sell the book to a publisher once it’s written, but hey: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.There’s been no shortage of people who have publicly declared me unfit to teach and who have tried to have me dismissed over the years, but I’ve weathered it. I’m leaving now because I want to. I expect I’ll have a few pangs when I see school busses roll by in September and I’m not part of it anymore, but I’ll get over it.


Anonymous said...




Blighter said...

Tom, your departure from teaching will be a loss to Maine's youth.

From reading your writings over the past two years I have come to appreciate your talents and techniques when explaining the oft times complex issues to young people.

No matter what some may have said as to your ability to teach, I for one would have been happy to either have been a student of yours or if I had children for them to attend your classes as well.

I wish you all the best on your book.

Allen R Butler

Retired Educator in Texas said...

I heartily endorse Allen R. Butler's comments, and hope that your column will continue to be available to those of us who value straight thinking...

From a Retired Educator in Texas

Anonymous said...

Tom, good luck.

When I was in High School the fact that I could think on my own was considered disruptive. Whether I agree with your philosophy or not, these kids were lucky to have you.
Just one more thing, be really glad if you have good health insurance with group rates.

Most sincerely,

The Loyal Opposition.

Sami Gay said...

How nice that you were able to get the taxpayer funded medical insurance that you so vociferously oppose for others. I for one, think the school system will be much better off without your hypocritical philosophy.

gaffer said...

Best Tom! You will enjoy retirement a lot. Your priorities will change and you will still be busy as that is the kind of person you are. You have done good! God Bless!

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks TLO. I did try to foster thinking whenever I could. One could voice any opinion at all so long as it wasn't nasty and a student could back it up with at least one fact.

Thanks to most of the rest for the kind words and advice. I'll be walking some new roads from June onward. Some will diverge and I'll probably choose the one less traveled by as Frost advised.

You may be assured that I won't be sitting home waiting for my heart attack.

Anonymous said...

I have a 13-year old daughter who will be entering your school soon. She is very bright and loves history. She is also an avid reader, including the Daily Sun. Thank you so much for this column which made her very happy!

Patrick said...

Great column - only 35 years too late, though. All the best in your future away from children.

Anonymous said...

All the best Tom! Can I get an autographed copy of your book?



Amy said...

Sad to see you go! I am a homeschooling mother and was considering letting my daughter take ONLY your Social studies class in 8th grade.......I am a former student and brought so much from your class that I still carry with me to this day.God Bless You and your future endeavors.You will be missed!