77 Years in the Classroom

“The Lord will tell me when to stop.”

– Olivia Neubauer, who died this week at the age of 100 after 77 years in the classroom

As I read this story about Olivia Neubauer I vacillated between mild horror and a silent prayer of “Please God let that be me!” I have so much respect for a life time dedicated not only to education but to classroom instruction but how is it possible when somedays it seems like I will seriously not be able to teach beyond 6th period?

Clearly longevity is not the result of working yourself to the bone – it’s a marathon not a sprint. I personally reject the burn-out model of teaching, regardless of how glorious or productive it might sometimes appear, and believe we should help each other “teach in balance” as one of my mentors and friends says. What stood out to me was how in 1964, after 20 some-odd years in public schools, Neubauer helped found a private Lutheran school where she taught for the next 49 years. On the one hand she did not go into administration but on the other hand she surly must have directly impacted the way that Lutheran school was set-up and run. Additionally, I wonder if the same kind of longevity would be possible in a public school? The private school must have been able to accommodate her particular needs as she aged in ways a more regulated, traditional school could not.

Here is one lesson I am walking away with: teachers need to found or run more schools and then stay in the classroom while they continue to be campus leaders. I often feel one of the most frustrating aspects of being a classroom teacher is how absolutely powerless I am. Sure, a good principal listens and consults with her teachers however teachers are at the mercy of a principal’s collegiality and willingness to be influenced. Acting as a founding teacher should look more like shared or distributive leadership rather than a hyper-burn-out model for teaching; unfortunately, most of the founding teachers of various schools (mostly charter) that I know never stay more than 2 or 3 years.

Olivia Neubauer also reminds me to see the long game and forgive myself when a lesson, day, unit or year doesn’t go how I planned. Imagine what a life time dedicated to education contributes?

What would it take for you to teach 77 years?


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