Drawing Upon Those that Came Before Us

I believe in tradition. I believe in roots. I believe in those that have come before me.

It is because of these beliefs that I felt something unsettling in my stomach as I sat at our retirement banquet this week with many questions spinning in my head: how am I honoring the values these teachers have instilled in our school, how am I instilling their wisdom into future generations of teachers in our school, and how am I ensuring their life’s work is remembered?

In other words, we are losing and lose each year educators of tremendous value that have turned innovations into foundational aspects of the school, foundations that should not be forgotten but honored and displayed.

So I sat taking notes with each speaker. I sat trying to soak up their last words, final words that obviously were at the heart of their beliefs on education.

Humor and Personality
Each of these educators brought humor to the classroom. Yes, each had their own form of it but there was no doubt that a sense of humor was an important factor in the classroom. But, it didn’t really seem to be just about humor. It seemed to be more about not being afraid to show your personality. This being who you are created something unique for the classroom and for the students. It allow for students to see these educators as something more than another adult telling them what to do. The best schools want great educators with great personalities because of what this brings to the students and community.

Another common theme was the sense of community and the importance of being part of it. The classroom is a big part of that community and establishing a strong one within it is essential. As one educator said, “be hard, be fair, and be friendly” and this establishes a professional yet caring community that helps everyone to excel. However, doing just that means connecting to the broader community of the school. And that is what is so powerful about each of the retirees – the school community was of great value and establishing a classroom community was clearly important.

The Value of Students

The Whole child, student voices, focus on the kids, establish relationships with the kids, it is about more than the content or the course were all statements made by the retirees. But the words on this page do little justice to the passion in their voices. Here were 30+ year veterans about to retire with a level of passion in their voices that sounded more like first year teachers anxious to enter the classroom.

I am deeply saddened to be losing the great educators some of which I failed to spend enough time with, to learn from, to extend myself in new ways. But, this last opportunity with these great educators afforded me the opportunity to do something about this. As one retiree recommended, all teachers should “keep a journal of all the great things that have happened to them so they can draw upon it during those rare not so good moments”. I like that idea but think it needs to extend to us keeping a record of the wisdom and advice these educators have for future generations.

So, how do we keep a record of this wisdom? how do we bring it to future generations? how do we leverage this human resource?

After all, if we want our next generation to succeed, we would be wise to not only remember but draw upon the wisdom of those that gave their soul to the profession and to the students. To fail in this regard is to fail our new generation of teachers, is to fail our new generation of students, and is to fail our school community as a whole. As one retiree stated, “too often we focus on what we can do instead of focusing on what we could do”.


  1. What a wonderful reflection on what so many of us experience each year in our schools. I particularly like the idea of “keeping a record of wisdom” and wonder how one would go about capturing that wisdom for generations to come. Maybe it happens intrinsically in the mentor/mentee process. Or by virtue of just listening to those that go before us. Either way, it is definitely something that every young educator should consider as the veterans in our ranks retire.

  2. A counselor once gave me a large manilla envelope with a big smiley face on it and a bible verse with a positive note inside. This was to be known as my SMILE FILE. Over the years it began to overflow as I placed every Christmas card, thank you note, etc. that my high school students ever gave me inside. It did sustain me through those rare days. If you are new to teaching or not so new– start one of these. You will need it to remind you of some of the best parts of teaching and that’s the students who acknowledge your efforts on their behalf.


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