Tag: Pat

Thanks for taking a chance on me

Good evening. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you, and in a way, to the Westport community. I stand before you today as a 36 year veteran, but I’d like to speak to you about who I was 36 years ago.   Any success I’ve had as a teacher, links to how my time here in Westport began

I was a risky hire, but I was nurtured.

I arrived in Westport, as green as could be.  I’d already been turned down by Trumbull, Stratford, and Fairfield, when I arrived here at Town Hall on a hot August day. Each had said, in that Catch-22 way, “We can’t hire you; you don’t have enough experience.”

That was true, but Mort Sherman, the Assistant Superintendent here in Westport in 1985, didn’t just ask me if I had experience.  Instead, he asked me to tell him something that I had enjoyed in my student teaching.  I told the group a story about how in that 5th grade class, we’d discussed current events, and we’d held a trial for the subway vigilante.  Then I told them about a fable a fifth grader had written about a rabbit who’d been magically turned into a vigilante.  The moral of the story had been clever:  Hare today; goon tomorrow.  Mort and his fellow administrators laughed…and decided that I was worth the risk.

But I was only worth the risk, because Mr. Sherman knew that he had the resources to take care of me.  He had human resources.  When I arrived at Long Lots, my first school, I met my mentor, Pat Beasley.  If you didn’t know her, you really missed out.  She remains the paragon of teaching in my mind.  She had a brilliant way with kids, but she also knew how to teach a teacher.  She didn’t just hand me material or say, “Do this on the first day.”  She modeled how she would introduce a math game or how she might begin to get to know her class.  

Pat was not my only mentor that year.  In those days, Westport had three resource teachers for the elementary schools, one for math, another for reading, and a third for writing.  Those three teachers spent a lot of time in my classroom during my first year.  Betty Honeycomb, Jane Fraser, and Donna Skolnick worked in my classroom every week.  They demonstrated lessons, showed me how to confer, watched me teach, and reflected with (or more often consoled) me after my lessons.  They always stressed that they had no connection to the administrators in my building.  They were not evaluating me, just helping to make me a better teacher.  Knowing that, I was able to take risks in front of them…and ask stupid questions.

They also pointed me toward the leading minds in their fields, the people who were shaping their own teaching. The school system brought several of those trailblazers to Westport.  During my first weeks in Westport, I heard one up-and-coming voice, Lucy Calkins, give a kick-off speech here in our Town Hall.  It was mind blowing for this inexperienced teacher.  During my first two summers, Westport hosted math institutes with Marilyn Burns.  I had never been so excited about math before. I could see it having a transformative effect on veteran teachers.  For this newbie, it was merely formative.  

I owe everything that I became to those wise and talented teachers and the resource teachers who followed them, Pat Beasley and Kaye May.  I’m saying this, not just to praise my personal heroes, but to point out that there’s much more to creating a strong staff than merely hiring good teachers.  Westport didn’t just give me a room and material resources.  It gave me the most valuable kind of resource, the human kind.

I would have loved to spend time talking about the young humans who enriched my days for 36 years, or the incredibly supportive parents  of those students, but John suggested 2 to 3 minutes, so I’ll save those stories for my next retirement.  Thank you for being a district that takes risks and grows teachers.  I hope you’ll continue to make that crucial investment.

Time Traveling

Today, while kids were waiting for buses to be called, we milled around the room chatting and drawing on the smartboard.  After H. left, I sighed, realizing I had forgotten to show him that I had found an old picture of him this weekend. I had been browsing old pictures on my phone, looking for cardinals.  “Why was I looking for cardinals?” you ask.  Simple,  because one of my fellow slicers had written about how she sometimes feels that a cardinal who lives in her yard might just be her grandfather, traveling back to see his family .  My family has had similar suspicions about the little white butterflies that flit around our backyard in June.  They feel like visitors from the other side.  

Also, a number of years back, we had made the acquaintance of a rather persistent cardinal who would perch on the window box in front of our house and stare through the big window into our living room.  We thought he was perhaps a bit crazy, but we also talked about how we imagined he was Pat (Patricia, named for her St. Pat’s birthday), who used to live down the street.  She had been like another grandmother to our girls, and we imagined that she might have been peering in to make sure we were okay.  I took several pictures of that watchful cardinal, and this weekend, I was sure I would find it on my phone or in Shutterfly, but I never did.  Sorry, Jess.  

But I did find that picture of H. when he was in second grade.  He was in our buddy class.  I would never have recognized him except that he had told me who his 5th grade buddy was, so when I saw the picture of R., I looked more closely at his little buddy, and sure enough, I recognized the eyes of H.  This year, because of the masks, the eyes and hair are all the features I get to see.  I had meant to show the picture to H. but he had been one of the first pick-ups.

When I sighed, though, A. and L. mentioned that they had been in that second grade class, too.  I knew about A. because she had told me last week.  In fact, she told me that her 5th grade buddy had stayed with them at the Cape one summer.  So, we started hunting for some pictures.  Now I knew where I would find them.  Subconsciously, I may have been looking for that cardinal, too.

We found several pictures.  Again, I felt that I probably wouldn’t have known it was A.  I wondered if this was because of the mask, or if it was because I didn’t know our buddies that well that year.  I wasn’t sure.  

Now L. wanted me to find a picture of her.  I asked if she remembered who her buddy was, and of course she did.  I think I may have underestimated how much a second grader looks up to a fifth grader.  We haven’t been able to meet with a buddy class at all this year.  It would break our cohorting protocols.  A quick scroll brought me right to the fifth grader I remembered so clearly, but what?  THAT was L. in the second grade?  I would never have guessed.  For one thing, she had glasses back then.  How could I possibly match her eyes from this masked year to that bespectacled look from bygone days?  Maybe a more observant person would have picked that up.  I asked L. and A. if they thought their parents might like those photos, and we promptly sent them off.  I scrolled through the other pictures of their second grade class, letting them rattle off the names of their old friends.  “Oh, that’s J,” one of them said.

“Wait, our J.?  I didn’t know she was in that class, too.”

“Yeah.”  

I had taught J’s older brother, so I thought I would have paid a little more attention if I had known his little sister was in our buddy class.  Then I realized that when the picture was taken, three years ago, I didn’t yet know her older brother.  He was in my class two years ago. 

I did not recover the pictures of the peering cardinal, but I did uncover an unremembered past, faces I hadn’t yet known well.  Thinking about it now, it’s making me see the present with a bit more depth.  Our history isn’t just the months we’re together.  Part of our history is the people we’ve shared. We’ve crossed paths before, in a different, unmasked time.  Sometimes we pass through each other’s lives, almost unnoticed.

And sometime, we return in a different form.