Thank you, Heights teachers

This column is dedicated to the 19 Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District professionals who retired at the end of this school year. Our retirees, 18 teachers and one counselor, have spent between 16 and 45 years in the district, collectively providing more than 450 years of service to our community!

I am deeply grateful to each of them for their long-term investment in our schools and our community. Because teaching skills are perfected through practice, none of our retiring teachers arrived fully prepared, but all of them depart with invaluable expertise, relationships, and institutional knowledge. It will take time for those who replace them to catch up.

While I have had public school teachers in my family (my sister taught in Chicago and my grandmother taught in a one-room school in Iowa), my respect for this profession comes from what I have witnessed in our school district, often from this year's retirees.

Those who taught my children, and those whom I got to know during my tenure at Reaching Heights, revealed the complexity of the job and inspired respect in me for those who do it.

Our retirees did great work and will leave behind holes that will be hard to fill. This cadre of accomplished teachers also built leaders and union stewards, child advocates, family supporters, and innovators. Thirteen of them started their careers before high-stakes testing put a stranglehold on teaching and injected fear into the classroom. Their departure weakens our contact with a broader vision of learning and success.

Several teachers are known to me because they used Reaching Heights grants to implement their innovative ideas. They are Lorna Askew, Zakiyyah Bergen, Ida Bergson, Donna Feldman, Ari Klein, Jeannette Russell, Laurel Chapman and Judith Spainhoward. Three of them, and counselors Michael Dixon and Johnnie Lemons, are among the departing Black educators who are so important to our district.

I want to single out Klein and Chapman, two remarkable educators whose contributions extend beyond their classrooms. Both were distinguished teachers and served as union leaders, with the goal of improving education opportunities for children in our district. They formed important partnerships with district leaders that made innovations possible.

Klein, an alum, parent and district resident, is a National Board-certified high school math teacher. He served as union president for eights years and, in his 33-year career, oversaw the union’s program of high-quality, teacher-led professional development. He is also a founder of the Heights Coalition for Public Education, which challenges harmful state education policy. 

Chapman is leaving after 45 years in the district. I know her best as the teacher who helped me better understand my child, her fifth-grade student, and as a colleague on the Boulevard Council, the district’s school-based governance pilot. After perfecting practices that removed barriers to success for her diverse students, she took on multiple roles within the district to make that the norm. She recruited new teachers, helped shape the teacher-evaluation system, and was instrumental in three programs to develop exceptional teachers.

We expect teachers to be tolerant and kind, creators of order and safety and subject-area experts. Successful teachers are learners who think on their feet, manage, motivate, and engage a large number of children, communicate effectively, nurture trust, connect with parents and a lot more. It’s exhausting.

We are fortunate that the Heights schools have a bountiful supply of teachers who, despite the insults and constraints imposed by state lawmakers, show up every day to do their best and perfect their practice.

To sustain public education, we must stand up for the profession that creates nurturing schools and liberating classrooms.

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser has been a proud Cleveland Heights resident siince 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters. 

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Volume 14, Issue 7, Posted 3:32 PM, 07.01.2021