Farewell to the classroom

Susan Smith gave this retirement speech Wednesday to the faculty at South Mecklenburg High School:

My parking space was No. 66, located on the second row in front of the gym.

Usually, I pulled into it through the space in front of mine. As I pulled in this way, my No. 66 became a 99. After doing this, day after day, for many years, it dawned on me, that I had better retire before I reached the ageof 99!

I have taught for 40 years: half a year in South Carolina, and 39 1/2 years in CMS. But I really began teaching when I was 12 years old, in my church, teaching Bible school and Bible study. When the education director asked me to teach, I thought nothing of it, since teaching came naturally to me. Now, I am amazed at my 52-year teaching career.

In that time, I have taught for 11 principals, and have seen a lot of trends in education come and go. Most of these were the same old programs, just labeled with new names. All those years, I did what I knew would work, regardless. And it paid off for my students.

When I began my official teaching career in the 1960s, teachers were respected, admired, trusted to do their jobs and acknowledged. Now, we are blamed for all the problems in society. Someone will probably find a way to blame us for global warming – you know, all that hot air.

Now, everyone wants to tell us how to do our jobs. Our emotions are hijacked, assaulted and manipulated. We sometimes feel that instead of being public school teachers, we are Public Enemy No. 1.

Just who are teachers? Just as there are golf pros and tennis pros, we are professional students – people who love learning and who are good at it. We chose a subject, excelled in it, and in so doing learned techniques that helped us succeed. As a result, we are able to apply this in guiding the learning process of our students.

In today's world, it takes a strong person to be a teacher, and not a puppet of someone else's agenda or ego. Therefore today, as I leave the formal classroom, I want to encourage teachers to be true to what you knowto be true. Be strong in that, and build on that. Remember who you are, and how you got here. Keep in touch with your inner teacher. Do not let everyone else's politics of fear harm your love of teaching.

I like working with people who are devoted to their jobs. This kind of commitment often is not spoken, but felt, acknowledged in a look or smile. To me, the silent team is far more important than the one that plays the politics of appeasement.

This is a tough job. Therefore, I want to thank all of you for being a part of my life:

From the custodians who always knew what was really going on, and often warned me about the approaching footsteps of Doom; to the secretaries who always took time to help me unravel whatever tangle I had; to the teachers who inspired me with their talent and their devotion to their jobs; and to those teachers who waited patiently behind me in line at the copier, as I was running off all those research paper handouts; to those who gave me words of encouragement, when I was reminded, again, of how hard it is to maintain high standards.

Also, I want to thank my most favorite group of ladies, the cafeteria workers. Their earthy humor, life-lesson wisdom and sincere friendship gave me a place, and a space, to step away from the rigor of the classroom and just be a person. They made my day.

Today, I retire from public school teaching. Life is life. “The Magic is in the magician, not the rabbit.” Remember that.