Sunday, July 5, 2009

Farewell - Retirement (Part 2)

It was a very laid back Kiwi affair. Casual and easy with just the right amount of formality and humour. The emotion was one of celebration and thanksgiving and farewell - This was my final school assembly at Parua Bay School. The school where I have been Deputy Principal and classroom teacher for 13 of my 35 year teaching career.
The assembly was a mixture of welcoming songs, speeches, copious presentations of cards and gifts, a tribute of music from my Junior Orchestra that I had nurtured for years and hugs and good old public displays of affection in the traditional Kiwi way. A lot of trouble had gone into the whole assembly and I was deeply moved - a door closed on a chapter of my life, just as others are opening and as life continues its forward momentum, syncopation, rhythm and promise. Syncopation is a good word, because often the music that calls us comes after the expected beat.
In my farewell speech I talked about the paradox that is summed up by the old saying, " The more things change the more they stay the same." - I explained this paradox like this:
Over 35 years of teaching there have been innumerable changes to the landscape of Education both worldwide and in New Zealand. These changes have included the curriculum (2010 brings more massive change), its delivery ( in terms of changing educational theory) and the organisation of schools (In New Zealand "Tomorrows Schools" (1989) has bought radical organisational change) - included in this are new changes in assessment, reporting, compliance, regulation, auditing, certification, resourcing, administration etc etc - the schools of this century are vastly different to those of the mid 20th century.
Despite all this, if we look at the major factors that are pivotal in a child's development and education there are three elements that are timeless.
The first element is the family into which the child is born. A positive loving, caring environment that aids the child's physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual development is as important as it has always been. Parents that know that the giving of themselves and their time is far more important than any flash toy they might offer.
The second is a corollary of the first. A child who wants to learn, whose needs are being met at home in such a way that they have an eagerness to learn and are not distracted by the emotion of unfulfilled needs. Children that come from wholesome life enhancing homes bring their own unique personalities to school and help create a learning environment where it is easy to honour each child's individuality - where we can all grow together - where teaching and learning is vigorous, not without its challenges but is not destructive to either the child or the learning community.
The third element that is crucial and timeless is the need for good, hard working talented teachers. Teachers who are good at what they do, know what the word pedagogy means but are down to earth enough to use the word 'craft' instead and know full well that education relies not just on pedagogical theory but also on common sense, commitment and hard work.
Good teachers are aware of what Jung calls the difference between the 'Country mind' and the 'City mind' - The City mind believes that you can create change and fix problems by writing legislation or by numerous law changes, that these things in themselves are the source of change and development. - The Country mind knows that after the legislation comes hard work, commitment and TIME. Everything has its season, 'Rome wasn't built in a day'.
There is a current Kiwi 'Mainland Cheese' advertisement on TV at the moment that sums up this third element well - there are two old codgers who after a lot of banter and checking of the maturing cheese we hear one speak the punchline, "Good Things Take Time"
...... yes they do.... they do indeed ..... its like that when you build things, whether it be a boat, a house, a loving relationship, a family, a teaching career, a child's education - there isn't really any other way - or none that I have been able to discern in my 58 years of life or my 35 years of classroom teaching.
How much time??? - well a lifetime... because when these three timeless enduring elemental realities are bought together they produce the goal of all good schools, which is to create individuals who will become lifelong learners.


Delwyn said...

Hi there,

A lovely and true speech Alden and it looks like a touching send off to a much loved and appreciated teacher.

And here begineth (sp)the next learning stage...

Happy days

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Thankyou Delwyn.

Yes! it is a new learning stage ... bring it on I say.

Janice said...

Wow - and time has built an amazing you; you are truly a scholar and a gentle-man, Alden! I am developing a deep admiration and respect for who you are, and that, my boy, is not easy to come by. I feel your school has lost a very valuable contributor to it's vitality, and I fear there are few who could fill your shoes. But, as you say, bring on the next thing!

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Thank you Janice for those very kind words. Life moves on and I have no doubt someone else will find their niche in my position at what is now my old school.

I guess that you are very aware of changing circumstances, the waxing and waning of life, with your recent shift. I hope all is well with you and yours and that you are now well settled in your new location.

Janice said...

Alden, we are settling in to our new home quite nicely; this is such a beautiful place with the sea so close by, and so many interesting places to visit around here! We love it, the gentler pace, friendly people, and just the all-round change of scene. It was very difficult to leave our much loved church and it's people, but we have, I think, found a new church here, and over time, it will also become our own. It is not, unfortunately, an Anglican church, as we find the ultra-conservatism that is prevelant on Vancouver Island too hard to take, but the United church we attended last Sunday seemed to be full of the great spirit we left behind in our old church, so I think we'll be happy there. We have invited every one we know to visit, too, so I don't expect we'll be lonely at all! I'm also looking forward to volunteering my time with the Stephen Fostor Foundation, the grannies who do what they can to support the grandmothers in Afric who are raising their grandchildren because their parents have died of AIDS. The first person I talked to at our new church was a woman who is involved with this group, and who helped me make connections, so you see, I think we are there for a reason. I suspect, somehow, that we will be busier than ever before, and so will you - nature abhoring a vacuum the way she does!

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

I am so glad for you that you both seem to be settling in and making connections so well and so soon.

The intentions of the Stephen Fostor Foundation sounds like an eminently suitable organisation to be involved in and I am sure you have much to offer them.

I like your last sentence and have not seen it put like that - its usually said in relation to political power, but I can see how very relevant it is in terms of nature, and my days are beginning to fill up. In fact if it wasn't for computers I would get a great deal more done! but I am not complaining.

Janice said...

Alden, I think you are doing a great deal with your computer - think of all the people this blog reaches, and enlightens. Your teaching career is far from over, my friend!

As a grandmother myself, it kills me to think of all those elderly women, most of them living in abject poverty, trying to look after young children, and dealing with the grief of losing their own children. I try to imagine what that must be like, and I can't, but I can do something to help, and I will. We are so fortunate here in the western world!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Pal,

Now that you're retired, I hope you'll have time to go on more sailing and paddling adventures and share them with your blog followers.

Congratulations on having spent the first part of your working life in education. We men in education are all to rare these days, at least in the US.

Keep us posted as to your activities!

Janice said...

Ahem, it is the Stephen Lewis Foundation - I always get it wrong!

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

You are quite right Janice we are certainly blessed here in the West, especially in terms of material comforts and things like hospitals etc - but we do need to work more on those things that are loosely called spiritual values.

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Dan, yes we are a dying breed, us male teachers and that's a shame because I firmly believe a school teaches more than just the proscribed curriculum, there is the unwritten curriculum for a start and numerous other values and socialisation that happens.

... and I will most certainly be posting amongst other things stories about my sailing, kayaking and cycling adventures.

Kathryn said...

Hi Pal, Congratulations on your well-earned retirement from teaching. Although I'm sure you will keep on teaching in your own way, even if you are not employed by a school.

The children must have loved you so much. I love the selection of cards you put up on your Blog.

Wishing you well in the next chapter of life....

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Hi Kathryn. Thankyou for those nice comments.
I bet it is nice to be home again!
Hope there isn't too much catch up work for you to do - sometimes holidays are hard work!! and you need to come home for a rest, and, well, a holiday!