No looking back for Tad and Debbie

Sep 9, 2013 By Randy Tucker

The only losers are the students who won't get a chance to know them.

Melancholy is a term often associated with the finality of the last act, the closing bell or simply the fateful day that ends a long career. People often encounter this mysterious emotion as they near retirement.

They may look back with satisfaction on a job well done, miss the opportunity to continue something they dedicated their life to, lament the road not taken, or more often, just hand in the keys, smile and move on.

The only time I was melancholy in my entire career came on a hot July day in 1999 when I cleaned out my classroom in Shoshoni. I wasn't retiring, just taking a job in Riverton that better suited my recent advanced degree in computer science.

But the feel of the books in the modest library I'd built, the photographs of teams and players from the last 15 years lining the walls, and the realization that this wasn't going to be my home for nine months of the year anymore struck me as a bit sad.Memories came cascading in uncontrolled surges from the far reaches of my psyche.

Not all final days have that sad tone. When my father retired in 1971 after 20 years in the Air Force and Navy, his primary comment was that he wanted to move to some place where no one had ever seen a B-52 bomber.

That place turned out to be on his farm between Kinnear and Pavillion. It almost came true, but on rare occasions we still spotted one of the big birds flying over from bases near Rapid City, S.D., or Mountain Home, Idaho.

The best vocational agriculture teacher I've ever had the chance to work with left his profession for good just over a year ago.

He didn't retire, but the environment that now permeates education was too much for him. He had to leave for his own sanity.

Tad worked with hundreds of students who became veterinarians, agricultural financiers, engineers, teachers, and outstanding farmers and ranchers.

His judging teams won countless honors in Wyoming and later in Colorado, but his best tribute comes in the hundreds of former students who keep in touch with him and still seek his advice.

His wife Debbie worked as a school secretary for a large portion of her career and experienced the same dire direction that education began to take in the mid-1980s.

The trend began gradually, but with the inevitability of an avalanche, it accelerated into the insanity of test, test, test that now creates a pale imagery of what was once a system that provided the best public education on the planet.

We spent the weekend with Tad and Debbie, and the difference in their appearance, health and general outlook on life was incredible. Gone were the beaten-down, overworked and overwrought people fighting for survival in a failing educational system.

In their place were two people happy with their lives, making more money than they ever dreamed possible, and spending time with their children and grandchildren.

This story is not the exception but the rule when it comes to people leaving education these days.

When I asked Debbie what the difference was, she was quick to reply.

"School has become a horrible place to work. It beats you down and just keeps taking more and more."

Her point is easy to understand if you've worked in a classroom in the last three decades.

It began innocently enough. The 1983 federal report on the state of education said we were falling behind everyone else in the world. So, the government, both state and federal, stepped in and really fouled things up as only a government can do.

If it had been a gunfight, the governors and presidents involved would have quickly shot themselves in the foot and called it progress because they beat their opponent to the draw.

The insanity reached institutional levels with No Child Left Behind. No longer would we teach history, math and biology. We would teach reading and a little math.

Because so few teachers understand math, that subject was thankfully largely left to those that did, but reading was another story.

Good teachers take pride and ownership in their subjects, and Tad was beyond good. When they began taking time out of his welding, animal production and plant science classes to teach reading he was understandably annoyed.

At one faculty meeting he asked the resident experts when the reading teachers would be teaching welding. The astonished looks from the building "leadership" said it all. It had never occurred to them that vocational skills were of any value at all. It was all about getting those reading scores to improve.

The question is never answered by the mindless adherents to the testing methodology, "Why would you want an incompetent auto mechanic or electrician?"

When did it became bad to earn a living getting your hands dirty?

That attitude, combined with Colorado's practice of taking valuable instruction time out of the day to enroll students in "test prep" classes to improve their reading and math scores, was too much.

Tad and Debbie are happy once again. The only losers in this story are the students who will never get the chance to work with either of them.

Those of us old enough to begin our careers in the 1970s and 1980s had a brief taste of academic freedom. Young teachers will never experience it.

In the end, it's much crueler to cage a wild bird than to simply keep one in a cage from birth to death. There is life after retirement.


Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator and administrator. He farms in rural Riverton.

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