April 2018

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Butterfly Bouquet

Yesterday marked the end of my 26 year career in education. It’s been a good ride, and it feels like the right time to go.

I taught in a Dallas private school, two suburban public schools, and two schools near SEA-TAC airport, many of whose students are living in poverty and some who have come as immigrants and refugees to the United States mostly from countries in East Africa, Central Europe, Southeast Asia, and Mexico and Central America.

I taught freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors in Language Arts classes to students who were labeled “gifted”, “regular”, and “struggling” or “remedial,” though all of my students fit in each of those categories from time to time.

In addition to Language Arts, I taught integrated Social Studies and Language Arts classes that we called Humanities. I taught Journalism for a paper that was one year recognized as second in our state. I taught Remedial Reading to high school students at least three years behind in reading.

In addition to teaching, I was a department chair. I helped design and start three new schools. I was a national education reform consultant, working in schools that taught significant numbers of students living in poverty. I managed and did some of the writing for Advanced Placement courses and A.P. Exam Review at Apex Online Learning. I led professional  development. I was a literacy specialist, working as a teaching coach and as a leader in a district’s teaching and learning department.

I’ve learned from a lot of people: my students and colleagues, my own teaching coach, professors at the University of Washington and Harvard, and other consultants and specialists.

It’s been a varied career, one that I’ve loved, but with these disabilities, fatigue, and my experiences with tumors and their treatments, I believe that I can now better serve in a new field.

Literacy colleagues at the district office gave me an excellent book, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, a book based on verse and sketches by Dr. Seuss before he died and recreated by writer Jack Prelutsky and illustrator Lane Smith.

The story’s setting is an oddball school full of oddball teachers who are passionate and weird. They don’t follow a state curriculum. The students, however, must take the state’s tests, and because they are smart, creative thinkers they do well.

 I believe that students learn best when they are truly learning and not just prepping for tests, and in my experience students taught in this way perform well on state tests, in addition to learning in creative and exciting ways. Only in this way have I seen schools be exciting places of hope.
The misbelief that educators must teach dully to a dull test is, in my experience, wrong and counterproductive.

At the end of my last day, my teaching colleagues and staff gave me an amazing bouquet of yellow roses and daisies with purple cut out butterflies. The butterflies have poems and notes from teachers and staff on the backs.

Since I have been an English teacher, the bouquet is appropriately symbolic. The colors of the high school I am leaving are purple and gold, like the bouquet. I will attend the School of Social Work in the fall at the University of Washington, whose colors are purple and gold.  

The butterfly was chosen by the Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network as a symbol for the hope that research into these tumors, the type of brain tumors that I had, provides.
The poems and notes are the lyricism of my days before and after tumors.

To this career and to all of those I have met along the way, many thanks and much love.


  1. Mary, this is an awesome post, as all of yours are. I wish you congratulations on your "commencement" -- leaving one career to move to the next. I love that they gave you a bouquet of poems. Onward and upward... love, kathy

  2. Years later, you still have my thanks and love! You were a wonderful teacher, and I was lucky enough to have at least one class with you every year of my high school career. Although there are two grades that still stick in my craw. ;) But you were a wonderful mentor for me, and a comfort as we both struggle with illness. Thanks for all you did and will do!

  3. HHS misses you Mary. I am so happy for your next move though!

  4. I'm delighted to hear that you will be joining the ranks of social workers, Mary! It's a well-trod path from education to social work, and I love how well the two get along. My dad just shared your blog with me and I'm enjoying it!


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