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.