Miles to Go…Back to School
By Lynne Dozier
Illustration by Will Harrison
Three years ago, I waited in my classroom, dark except for the light coming through the double doors to the Commons. During the summer, I had cleaned out 30 years of files, and sorted through movie posters, student projects and artwork I had saved. I stored 15 framed covers of Aquilae Stilus, our high school’s nationally recognized student art/literary anthology in the closet. The bare walls, empty bookcases and desks sat in the silence.
In the room where I spent almost 30 years, I thought I heard their voices, “Are you really The Teacher from the Black Lagoon?” “My sister said you’re the toughest teacher at school, are you?” I watched their faces as they talked about their paragraphs, revisions and grammar. They leaned across their desks so they could listen to each other read what they had written that particular day. When the first computers arrived, they huddled around them and watched their words crawl across the screens. Then, I thought I saw a much younger teacher walking around the classroom, pausing to listen to an interesting sentence, a thought-provoking idea, or help a student who struggled with editing “be” verbs. Occasionally, she stopped to answer a question or suggest a better way to write a thesis, “hook” a reader, express a metaphor or write a conclusion.
That August afternoon, on the day I officially “retired,” I handed the classroom keys to my principal, walked out of the school and believed, like Robert Frost, that “I had miles to go before I sleep,” and much work left to do as an educator even though this verse had ended.
The purpose of education has changed since I entered a classroom in the ‘60s, and today’s young people face uncertain futures. In southeast Missouri, the parents of most of my students worked on farms, in factories, small retail stores, and gas stations. A few students came from families where the father was a doctor, lawyer or dentist or the mother taught school. They expected their children to attend college and pursue careers while the other parents wanted their children to work and raise their families in the area. However, farms and factories disappeared when we entered an era of global competition. Jobs have become increasingly technical. Auto mechanics, for instance, cannot repair today’s cars unless they know how to read complicated manuals and use electronic equipment. In the ‘60s, some of my students dropped out to join the armed services when “Vietnam” began to appear in the headlines. Today, the military no longer recruits young men—and women—unless they have completed high school and passed reading and mathematics competency tests.
Today, we have an educational system that “educates” the elite and wants to “train” everyone else. Schools have tried a variety of “innovative” approaches: flexible scheduling, multi-age/same gender classes, and endless test practice—common assessments, benchmarks, pre-tests and post-tests—all in the name of “accountability.” We debate Common Core national standards versus TEKS state standards. When students fail classes and the STAAR test, or need to take developmental math and English classes at community colleges before they enroll in college credit classes, we say, “Students just need to work harder.” So, we give them more test practice, more “drill and kill” worksheets, more lists of words to memorize. In all the media hype and attention, in all the reports and books, in all the faculty meetings and in-services, we have failed to consider the needs of young people, and to understand the best ways for them to learn, adapt to their surroundings and assimilate experiences and information, which will lead them to satisfying, useful, and productive lives.
I’m one of the lucky teachers who loved teaching on the day I retired as much as I did when I first entered the doors of a school. I wish all educators had the same benefits and advantages as I did.
I graduated from college with a strong background in literature, language and composition. I studied adolescent and educational psychology, and the history, principles of education and methods of teaching; I entered the teaching profession prepared and knowledgeable.
I taught in a school district that provided resources and training that helped me adapt to changing needs in a changing world. I helped write the first grant that provided computers for every classroom, but I understood that while technology might enhance my relationship with students, it would never replace it.
I worked for administrators who empowered me to make decisions and supported my methods. They encouraged me to become the “instructional specialist” in my classroom and, as the English department chair, an instructional leader in the school.
I worked with parents who provided the DNA my students needed to succeed. I never taught their kids to read and write; I gave them permission to develop their abilities.
I taught students who asked questions and challenged me to answer them. When they asked, “How do I improve my composition?” I could respond, “Avoid the obvious. Think outside the box. Be Specific. Remember the 3 Cs: Clear, Correct, and Concise. Edit most of your “be” verbs and all of your adverbs—they’re the sign of a weak mind.”
I learned from our four children and eight grandchildren that all children have special gifts and talents; one size does not fit all—whether it’s a shoe, a book, or a curriculum; filling in bubbles on a scantron does not build skills for careers, college or a lifetime of learning.
I married a man 50 years ago who provided enough income that I never worried about paying the rent, buying groceries or sending our kids to college. He bought my first computer and insisted I learned to use it.
As students return to school this fall, let’s hope that most of their teachers have the same advantages I had: a strong educational background, a school district that provides staff development and resources, supportive principals, capable, caring and conscientious parents, inquisitive students, a flexible, project-based curriculum, and an increase in salaries and benefits so they can pay their bills.
We all have work to do. This fall, we need to vote against politicians who control the State Board of Education, who cut funds for public schools and fill their pockets with money from lobbyists who work for vouchers and charter schools, testing and textbook conglomerates. We need to vote for legislators and leaders who will listen to teachers, especially those affiliated with professional organizations, respond to parents who keep their kids home on STAAR test days, and hear the pleas for “real learning” from bored, unmotivated and unengaged students.
The time has come to invest in our greatest human resources: the minds of our young people and the teachers who will welcome them back to school this fall. Our democracy depends on educating all our children. Listen to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison if you don’t believe me.
For thirty years, Lynne Dozier taught English Language Arts, Creative, Practical Writing and Advanced Placement Language and Composition at Klein Forest High School. She also served as ELA Department Chair and Coordinator of Grants, Community Relations and Advanced Placement Programs. Though she retired three years ago, Lynne continues to serve teachers and students as a volunteer on the Klein Education Foundation Board of Directors, an “Ambassador” for Klein ISD Friends of Public Schools, and the Director of Kids Hope mentoring program for her church. She is also a member of the Northwest Chamber of Commerce Council for Educational Improvement.
Lynne’s awards and publications are too numerous list, but her book The Writer’s Voice: 18 Lesson to Improve Writing (2013) has been earning much praise, including being pinned as a featured selection on the iTunes store for a full year. She donates the majority of book sale proceeds to scholarships and grants that support writing.
In between visits with her eight grandchildren, and travels throughout the world with her husband of fifty years, Lynne finds time to write and edit several projects including her second book, THE LAST ASSIGNMENT: VOICES FROM ENGLISH CLASSES.
by Guest Author