I never wanted to be a teacher. Or a nurse.
In 1959, there were not many obvious choices for smart little girls: teacher, nurse, secretary, retail, or wife. In 1969, I was majoring in foreign languages at Hood College in Frederick, MD, planning on spending my junior year in France. Prerequisite: sophomore year in the French House. However, my place at Chez Francaise was withheld, so adieu to Strasbourg. I backed into teaching when I decided to sign up for a class at the campus lab school. Watching pre-schoolers play and learn together was intriguing and stimulating, and I was hooked. I also ended up transferring to Goucher College in Baltimore. I was looking for a larger cultural life: ballet, orchestra, opera, ethnic foods–heck, I would have even settled for a decent sub sandwich!
I spent 1978-79, my 7th year of teaching, at a new school. Court-ordered desegregation had moved my students and me from sweet little North Star Elementary (a 12-room school) to a wonderful city school, Wm. C. Lewis, with Phil Reed, the best damned principal I have ever known. I taught 3rd grade and TAG at Lewis until 1989, when I turned myself into a middle school science teacher. At HBMS I could dedicate my room to one subject and focus my teaching and learning on one topic, instead of the scattershot expectations of elementary school. It’s hard to be an expert in every subject: reading, math, English, handwriting, spelling, writing, science, social studies, bicycle safety, head lice… It was a relief to specialize and to have the chance to get really good at what one does.
By 1999, I had stepped out of the classroom to work in a special project to transform elementary and middle school science in Delaware. I spent five years working with a fabulous bunch of teachers from across the state. When the grant ended, I jumped at the chance to get back to the classroom. I missed the kids. I missed being around teachers every day. I think now that I wanted more than an office and a view from the outside. So, I went back to teaching 6th grade science.
Towards the end of 2009, in the middle of my 38th year (jeez–how did I get this old?), I got the urge for going—just like the words of the 1966 Joni Mitchell song. Not the urge to retire, but the urge to take a new path.
In June, 2010 I ended my term as President of RCEA, the second largest education union local in the state–all the while continuing as a full-time working teacher. But, trust me; my local presidency had quickly become a second full-time job. I had decided to run for president of the NEA state affiliate, DSEA.
In the spring of 2011, I was elected President of the Delaware State Teacher Association–DSEA–a union of education professionals–not just teachers. After 39 years teaching in 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms, I moved on to an office job in Dover–representing over 12,000 DSEA members: school librarians, para-educators, secretaries, teachers, food service workers, nurses, bus drivers, psychologists, custodians, retired educators, and others tied to the education of students and citizens in our state. I find the job to be interesting, exciting and very satisfying. I love this job. I take very seriously my role as spokesperson for the organization and as a chief advocate for our students and for public education.
Delaware may be a tiny state, with only three counties and nineteen school districts, but we certainly have had our share of district dramas, financial meltdowns, as well as a superfluity of “education reform” pressures in the past five years.
I am proud to be a teacher; I am also a proud education union leader. I have been an active union member since my second week of teaching back in 1972 when I was asked to serve as the Association Rep at North Star. I was a natural for the job back then: young, idealistic, motivated by social justice issues, and already actively involved in politics–working campaigns, teach-ins, civil rights, voter registration. Since then, I have taken on almost every job that exists in local education unions.
So, I ask the question: “Does experience count?” Answer: “You bet it does!”