“Unthankfulness is theft” – Martin Luther
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the debt that I owe to others in my life. Since I prefer to limit my blogging to my teaching career and the profession of teaching, it occurs to me that, even if no one else reads this, I need to thank the people who have influenced me and contributed to my own career as an educator. Some of the people that I discuss in these posts will be my own teachers. Others will be colleagues who supported and influenced me during these years as a teacher.
Vicki Winterton was the Chemistry teacher at Mt. Whitney High School when I started my teaching career there in 1986. Though I thought that I was being hired to teach Biology and Health science, my initial assignment turned out to be three sections of Health Science and a couple sections of Earth Science. Seniority issues can be a real pain in the rear for a young teacher. I had a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and I was teaching Earth Science (the one class I told them in my interview that I was not qualified to teach).
After a couple of years, there was a need for someone to teach some extra sections of chemistry. Several administrators doubted that I was qualified, but with Vicki’s support I was given a chance to teach those extra sections. That opportunity changed the direction of my teaching career, primarily because it gave me the opportunity to work with Vicki Winterton.
Knowing that I was teaching chemistry the following school year, I went to Vicki before summer break started and asked her for some guidance. She promptly made ALL of her materials available to me – labs, worksheets, quizzes, tests…EVERYTHING. As that first year of chemistry progressed, she was a constant source of information and encouragement. She had been the Visalia Teacher of the Year, and would soon garner the yearbook dedication from our student body. She was the consummate professional, but I learned that her success was as much a product of the respect that she accorded her students as it was her mastery of the subject matter. She would warn them about her “raw German rage,” but students clearly could see that she had a huge heart, and that “rage” was not how she managed a classroom.
To this day it amazes me that colleagues teaching the same subject at the same school will put up barriers to cooperation. When Vicki and I taught together, everyone knew that we were in lockstep with one another. If a student transferred from one of us to the other, the work, policies and place in the curriculum would be consistent. When I transferred to El Diamante High School in 2003, it was because of the desire to bring that atmosphere of collegiality to a new school. Here, our science department is well known for the willingness of the faculty to work together and share. Much of that is due to the years that I spent working with Vicki Winterton at Mt. Whitney.
Indeed, much of the content of the this website had its origins in that Chemistry room at Mt. Whitney. Many of the labs posted here originally came from Vicki, as did a popular organic chemistry tutorial. She might even share with you that she first taught me how to do my grades on a computer spreadsheet – my first experience at using a computer to simplify the work of a teacher.
I frequently get email from fellow teachers thanking me for making the materials at this website available to everyone. Many times, the email is from a brand-new teacher, or someone teaching Chemistry for the first time. Some of them have even offered to reimburse me for some of what they use. What I tell them is that this is my attempt at trying to pay back the debt that I owe to those who supported me when I was a new teacher. No one was a greater source of support to me than Vicki.
At the end of this 2012 – 2013 school year Vicki is going to retire. She and her husband John can spend more well-deserved time at their cabin at Hume Lake. She can also have a break from the endless cycle of “staff development experts” and “education consultants” who could not bring to a classroom even one-tenth of what Vicki brings ever y day. Regardless of the fact that she will not actually be present in the classroom next year, students will continue to be impacted by her for many years to come through those of us who have been blessed to call her a colleague and a friend.