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March 1, 1993
Vol. 50
No. 6

Voices: The Teacher / Views of an Experienced Beginner

There is a certain comfort in knowing that the stew you are savoring tonight is better than it was at last night's supper, or that the television program you enjoyed in the fall is funnier when viewed the second time. Even Hollywood producers see the value in remaking a hit movie with a proven track record.
This is how I felt when I embarked on Teaching Career Part II after taking a hiatus for more than 20 years. In Career Part I, I was single, living at home, and my chief concern was where my fiance and I would eat dinner. As I began Part II, I was married, taking care of a home, paying tuition for a college student and two children in parochial elementary school, buying a house, supporting three vehicles, and worrying about cooking dinner.
Once I started Career Part II, I had all of the concerns of the mid-career teacher and none of the experience of the 20-year veteran, the idealism of the first-year teacher and none of the guilt. I was somewhere between a fine, well-aged wine and a diet cola: greater character and no calories.
Now that my career is well under way for the second time around, what I offer students is far different from what I provided during Part I. I view my students differently now, but, then again, the profession tends to view the students differently. I have learned to deal with a class of 28 individuals rather than attempting to mold these separate personalities into a teacher-satisfying conformity.
During my 20-year hiatus, I learned many skills: people management techniques, child and adolescent psychology, efficient use of time and resources, conflict management, concentration techniques, even computer technology, all taught to me by my own children. Adding to this mix are the skills I learned problem solving my way through life's challenges. My graduate-school activities added the spice I needed to warm-up my leftover teaching career.
Just as I am the same person that I was 20 years ago, only different, education in the 1990s is both a close relative and a distant cousin of education in the 1970s. Students are still in brick school buildings, led by a teacher in a room that is too small, with stacks of books, piles of papers, and never enough time. Students and teachers today, however, have a greater selection of tools to use to accomplish their goals. While paper and pen are most often the chief instruments of communication between student and teacher, a computer printout or a student-produced video often replaces the research project or the obligatory book report.
Education of today has become a group activity. When all members of the team—students, parents, teachers, and support personnel—are working together, the learning goals can be reached. If one of the players fumbles, the goals are harder to achieve.
I applaud the support available to students and teachers today. During Career Part I, I paid little attention to the students' family situations. I expected them to be ready to learn from the first bell in September until the last ring in June. What happened when the student was at home was of little concern since it was unlikely the educational community could affect the home situation.
Today, I have a great deal of information on the family situations of many of my students and a greater appreciation for the burdens many of them bring to school along with their backpacks. The schools and community service organizations offer a wide selection of programs to help the student deal with family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and the myriad problems of growing up in today's world. Whether a school is large or small, most students have access to health screening, counseling services, and psychological assistance. While these services were present 20 years ago, their scope was limited to the students' needs during the academic day.
Just as my students are growing, I feel comfortable knowing that I am not a finished product, and that there are sources available to help me achieve the goals I set for myself and my students. Teaching is still an isolating profession. No other adult is physically present in the classroom with me when the bell rings at 8 a.m. But the resources my students and I need are only a phone call away.
Some things never change. I'm still running around the building with blue hands and leaving at the end of the day with crates of student writings to read. Try as I might I still can't seem to get more than one page ahead of the students. But this time I won't leave the profession quite so willingly, nor will I allow it to leave me. We've kept in touch for more than 20 years. There was a spark between us when we reunited. With a little help from my friends, we'll fan that spark into a nice cozy fire and keep that stew hot, bubbling, and tasty.

Karyn Hecker has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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