Submitted by Lorraine Burke
My story, the short version: I turned in my resignation a month ago. It is not how I planned on ending my teaching career, but I cannot risk my life or my husband’s life with the coronavirus possibly returning next fall. I had pneumonia last fall and gave it to my husband who was in the hospital for five days with it, and it was terrible. So, although I had planned on one final year to round out my 40 years in Cave Creek, this is the end.
For those of you with the time, who are interested, here is my story, the long version.
When I graduated from Central Michigan University in 1977 with a teaching degree, I moved to Detroit. That fall all the schools went on strike, so there were no teaching positions open. I had to have a job right away, so I took one at Blue Cross/ Blue Shield for a year. They were a great employer, but I wanted to teach. I moved to Arizona in December 1978 and started substitute teaching (as well as working at Caf’ Casino restaurant and the Greyhound Dog Track!). I subbed everywhere from way up north in Mayer and Black Canyon City (where I live) to Kyrene, McClintock, and Marcos De Niza in the south, to Peoria in the west. In the fall of 1979, I began teaching reading at Peoria High School in a Title 1 program for a year.
In the fall of 1980, I began substitute teaching at Black Mountain Elementary School in Cave Creek which was 3rd through 8th grade at the time. That campus is now the District office. One of the math teachers was due to have a baby and I was in line for her job, but in the meantime, I was hired in October as a long-term sub for an Industrial Arts teacher who was being fired. He taught three classes of 8th grade Industrial Arts and three classes of 8th grade Literature – having the exact same group of 8th grade students twice a day. The students were out of control, having had no classroom control from August through October, and there were chunks of the desks sawed off, holes students had punched in the walls, and reports that one student had almost been injured by some of the equipment. Obviously, I was not qualified to teach Industrial Arts, so I did the longest unit on Safety ever devised by a desperate first year teacher!
However, I also had the opportunity to teach literature. Unfortunately, many of the students were difficult (not all – I have several who are friends of mine on Facebook to this day!) and I had to endure them twice a day. Luckily, in January I was hired full-time and the Home Economics teacher who had been teaching the 7th graders twice a day (Home Ec and Literature) now taught both 7th and 8th graders Home Ec, and I got to teach literature to both groups. Those 7th graders were my babies and the salvation of my sanity. While the 8th graders went to high school in Scottsdale after that year, my 7th graders became the first students to attend the newly built Cactus Shadows High School that opened in August 1982 and later were our very first graduating class, the class of 1986. That campus later became Desert Sun Elementary, then Sonoran Trails Middle School, and is now Black Mountain Elementary School. I followed that group of students up as we added grade levels one year at a time, teaching them in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, finally ending up teaching 12th grade English and AP English, creating the curriculum as I went. In many ways, we grew up together, and many of them are some of my most precious friends.
During the 80’s, I took on many additional responsibilities. I became a member of the CCEA (the Cave Creek Education Association), becoming spokesperson for negotiations and then its president. Initially, I was the only English teacher (yes, we were that small!) so I was the Department Chair by default. I continued in that role until 2000, and later again from 2007-2010. It was also during this time that the Career Ladder was instituted, encouraging and rewarding teachers for taking on leadership roles and for excellence in teaching. I became one of its leaders as well. I also served on the District Professional Growth Committee, multiple Curriculum Committees writing the English curriculum, and on the STAR Team for Substance Abuse Prevention. I am proud to say, I was the commencement speaker at graduation on three different occasions, true highlights in my career. I became the advisor for the Kiwanis Club’s high school organization the Key Club back in 1982. We traveled all over the state to leadership trainings and sponsored many worthwhile charity events. These were extremely rewarding but time-consuming responsibilities that I gave up once my daughter was born in 1990.
During the 90’s, I taught mostly 12th grade English and AP English. As I became concerned that the students coming to me hadn’t been reading much, I changed my focus to the 9th graders. My goal was to build a strong reading foundation for them so they could succeed in higher level classes.
It was a decade of learning as a teacher and training other teachers. I went through the Greater Phoenix Area Writing Project in 1989, became a district trainer of the Cave Creek Writing Project, Six Traits Writing, and the Arizona State Assessment Plan (ASAP). I benefitted from training in Clinical Supervision, Essential Elements of Instruction (EEI), and Advance Placement English. In addition to being a Peer Evaluator for the Career Ladder program, I advised the National Honor Society for nine years. In 1995, I was awarded the Phoenix Suns/America West Airlines Educator Award.
In 2000, when my good friend and colleague Adrienne Gibson became principal of our newly formed Sonoran Trails Middle School, I jumped at the chance to develop and plan the new school. We employed team teaching, block scheduling, and “looping” or moving up with the same group of students from 6th to 7th to 8th grades, similar to my experience when I began teaching. Those of us who were there at the beginning call it our “Camelot” years because it was such a wonderful, innovative, spirited time period.
It was also a decade of more leadership opportunities. I started and advised the Kiwanis Builders Club at STMS and was the Language Arts Content Lead. Thanks to my team teacher Amy McBeth who got a grant, I became one of the first teachers in the district to use a Smartboard and the MyAccess writing program that became integral parts of teaching as well as assessing writing in the district. I continued learning more as well, including Understanding by Design, Kagan Cooperative Learning and Multiple Intelligences, Quality Tools, Love and Logic, Cognitive Coaching, and the Lee Jenkins L to J Process. I continued leadership in the Career Ladder and became a member of the Steering Committee in 2000 and the Co-Director from 2005-2010, handling a million dollar plus budget.
I had the great pleasure of teaching my own daughter in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade along with all her friends. During that time, I took on the biggest learning challenge of my life: earning my National Board Certification in Early Adolescence English Language Arts. I was inspired by my best friend/colleague Debra Horton Remley who was the first Arizona teacher to achieve two separate National Board Certifications. It was a nine-month process and only 50% of applicants got their certification on the first try. It was especially thrilling then to receive notice of my certification in November 2002 on my first attempt. Subsequently, I was nominated by CCUSD for Arizona Teacher of the Year in 2004. I didn’t win but felt very rewarded by having been chosen by the district to enter the competition. The district has shown its appreciation for my work with Employee of the Month Awards in 2006, 2008, 2014, and 2018, the Excelling Website Designation Award in 2014 and 2019, and the H.U.G. (Helping Us Grow) Award in 2012.
I returned to CSHS in 2006 when STMS moved to a different site that was not conducive to the carpooling I was doing, and I went back to teaching 9th grade English.
Then came the so-called “retirement” years. I “retired” in 2010, having completed 30 years of teaching. I immediately returned to teaching at CSHS through a program called Smart Schools. The following year, I came back to teaching at CSHS as a regular employee. Then I “retired” again, with the plan of doing a long-term substitute position at CSHS for my friend Ariana Cerna who was having surgery at the beginning of the school year to donate part of her liver to her son. After subbing for the first quarter, I took a short break to do some traveling, afterwards coming back for a long-term substitute job at CSHS for my friend Amy Metcalf who was having knee surgery. I finished off that year substituting for my friend Kelly Pope who was having a baby, teaching 7th grade at STMS. I had so much fun going back to teaching middle school, that when she decided to stay home with her children the following year, I took the job.
During that year I had an exceptionally talented student teacher, Haley Arnold, who, when I “retired” at the end of that year, took my place. I have been fortunate to have mentored nine student teachers during my career, many of whom became my respected colleagues. My final student teacher, Andrea Daly, was not only a former student of mine, but is my current colleague teaching Pre-AP English with me. I am so proud of all the teachers I have mentored.
After what I thought was my final year, I “retired” again, not entering a classroom for the entire year. Of course, I was still teaching, tutoring my nephew long-distance in Michigan over the phone and Internet. My husband and I painted our entire house by ourselves, vacationed in Hawaii (with friend/colleague Amy McBeth and former student/Chris McBeth), spent quality time with friend/former student Michelle Wilson Wasielewski during a health crisis and with Amy Metcalf who lost her husband that year, and did multiple home projects. My husband wasn’t sure he could find any more projects to keep me occupied! Then the following year I was tempted back to CSHS by my friend Amy who said I was needed because a teacher was taking a year off to have a baby. That was five years ago.
My plan was to continue through next year when I will get full Social Security benefits and also because it would have completed my 40th year teaching in CCUSD. I already have taught 40 years, but one year was at Peoria, and I did take that one year off. However, this will have to do. The coronavirus struck, and I am ending my career teaching from home online. I love technology and it is working pretty well, but I miss my students and my teacher friends, and I didn’t and won’t have a way to have a proper goodbye. As far as I know, I have taught here at CCUSD longer than anyone else ever has. There aren’t parades or parties for teachers who retire, not even after 40 years. That is okay. CCUSD has been my home and my family for most of my life. I have taught students and the children of former students. I have had former students as my colleagues and friends. I have 40 years’ worth of memories and friendships. That will be enough.
I need to take a moment to thank some wonderful people in my life. My husband Ken should have an award for putting up with living with a teacher all these years. Thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you to my daughter Emily who put up with having me as a teacher, having all her friends know me, having everyone in the district know who she was, and having to come to school so many weekends while I graded papers. It is not easy to be the child of a teacher. Thank you to my daughters-from-other-mothers Andrea Daly and Jenn Cento who have kept me on my toes this year and have been the best of partners in this new world of teaching Pre-AP classes. Thank you to Debbie Burdick, Bill Dolezal, Steve Bebee, and Laurie Umbarger who took a chance on letting an old teacher come back from retirement so many times! Thank you to my crew in the 300 building and my wonderful friends at CSHS and STMS and throughout the district. More than anything, thank you to all my students, those from long ago and from today. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life, for making me worry about you, for making me proud of you, and for becoming my friends, my family, my “kids.” I love you all more than words can say, and coming from a verbose English teacher, that is saying something!