September 2, 2017
That is the question I am asked repeatedly now that I’ve concluded 28 years of teaching physics at Bartlesville High School. I’m still at the school several times each week supporting the rollout of student Chromebooks and the Canvas learning management system, but the only classes I have taught since May have been computer lab training sessions for teachers. So I get that question from district employees, former students and their parents, and other folks I encounter in the community.
My standard response has been, “I’ve been too busy to even think about it.” My new role leading districtwide technology and communications has indeed kept me scrambling: I was working 60 hours each week throughout August. But on Labor Day weekend, a couple of weeks after the intense start of the new school year, I finally have some time for contemplation.
No, I don’t miss teaching.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved teaching physics. I landed my dream job back in 1989 and had a rewarding career in the classroom. But there are several reasons I am content with my transition to administration.
One is that my interests and reach had long extended beyond the walls of the classroom. I’ve held demanding side jobs in the district for decades and earned my master’s degree in administration back in 1999. Teaching physics was always job one, but I had many others. The bars below my career timeline visually summarize my other long-term commitments.
Another reason I was happy to leave the classroom was that I had met a challenging goal. I told my evaluators back in May 2016 that my teaching goal for my last year was simple: End strong. I was determined that I would not let the huge demands of the transition year hurt my students. I gave everything my all, working 60 to 80 hours a week for months, and it paid off. In July 2017 I found out I had hit a career high with 25 of my students earning passing scores on either the Physics 1 or Physics C: Mechanics exam, beating my 2006 record of 20 passing scores.
A powerful emotional support was a moment of closure a student surprised me with back in May. It put me in the right frame of mind for a new phase of my career.
When I began teaching in 1989, I made the word problems more interesting by making them about the treacherous adventures of Fluffy the Physics Feline. I tortured her mercilessly with lawnmower chases, frozen pond pulls, and more. The kids liked it so much that they gave me a real Fluffy at the end of the year. She sat on an intercom in the room and it eventually became customary for her to be catnapped by kids each year.
When she moved with me to our new lab in 2003, she got her own locking glass cabinet, but clever kids still managed to steal her annually. She has been skiing, to Europe multiple times, been the star of videos, the subject of ransom notes, returned at prom, etc. Two years ago she never came back, and even the town newspaper and magazine carried word of her disappearance. She finally reappeared at the start of the next school year.
Dear old Fluffy was catnapped again during my final school year of teaching, with funny photos on Instagram of her adventures about town and silly notes slid under the classroom door. And then she returned, only to soon disappear again for the remainder of the school year. As classes wound down, I couldn’t help wondering if she would ever return.
At the Class of 2017’s commencement in May, I led the faculty onto the field one last time in my long-standing role as teacher line leader. After the graduating seniors filed by, we took our seats. I knew this was the last graduating class where many students would be my own. Talented students sang and spoke to the crowd on a beautiful Oklahoma evening.
And then in the middle of her speech, Sr. Class President and physics student Shay Stayton surprised me by pulling Fluffy out from behind the podium. She said it was finally time for Fluffy, wearing a glittery mortar board, to graduate. I laughed and grinned at the time, but I’ll confess my eyes can tear up at the memory. It was the perfect ending to my teaching career. Thank you, Shay.
So in June I was ready to clean out and pack up. I took cartloads of paper and rubbish to the dumpster:
I also tossed over a quarter century of lesson plans. I gave my able successor the physics curriculum I sell, Wendy helped me copy and organize hard copies of all of the quizzes and tests, and I organized a file drawer filled with AP exam packets and resources. So the new physics teacher has access to everything from my classes to use, edit, or discard as he wills. I trust him to make the courses his own.
I hauled additional items, including Newton, Einstein, and of course Fluffy, to my new office at the Education Service Center.
I see that the median job tenure in the USA is just over four years and that the baby boomers of the generation ahead of mine held an average of a dozen jobs when between the ages of 18 and 48. I only had four jobs during that 30-year stretch. After three temporary jobs during and after my bachelors degree, my first permanent job lasted almost three decades. So I was ready for the change.
The ESC is a far quieter place than the high school. We are very lean, and every administrator has to wear multiple hats to keep the district running in this era of abominable state funding. So there is very little socializing or relaxation; everyone is busy, busy, busy. But I am happily drawn out to the schools on various missions; I’ve already been to all nine sites in the first two weeks of school. Everywhere I go I see teachers, secretaries, custodians, administrators, and other employees putting kids first, fulfilling the district mission: educating and enriching lives.
No, I don’t miss teaching. Everything I do supports it. My wife and I talk about her classes and my challenges every evening. Teaching children remains job one. I am proud to be a Bruin.