When I hatched it, I referred to my plan as “23AndMe,” like the genetics company. I would “graduate” (retire) in 2023, after teaching physics (and other things) at Rio Americano High School for 37 years. I was excited when my graduating class arrived on campus last year.
The CalSTRS numbers looked good. The last few years were going to be a bit bumpy, though. Physics, a course I've taught at Rio since 1986, was coming to an end. The vision of Next Generation Science Standards called for Physics to be replaced with Physics of the Universe (PotU).
California published its vision of PotU, but textbooks and curriculum have been slow to emerge. The widespread expectation is that classroom teachers would absorb the NGSS PotU vision and leverage their creativity and ingenuity to develop curriculum ex nihilo. I had done some preliminary organizational work on how I would implement PotU at my school. But that first year promised to be an endeavor. There were two teachers at my school who could teach physics after I was gone. We met a few times to work on PotU.
In January of 2020 (years ago, now), my district offered a wee early retirement incentive to its oldest and most educated teachers. They hoped to clear out the highest paid faculty, easing pressure on a strained district budget. I looked at the numbers and was insulted. No way.
Then the pandemic struck. The district rescinded the incentive to those who applied for it. Many teachers retired without the incentive.
Our Last Day of School was Friday the 13th of March, 2020. Novel but unspectacular when it occurred.
We have yet to return. Teaching is remote; learning is distant. It is awful. The school’s younger physics-teaching prospect moved to another district. An intended textbook adoption for all science courses was suspended.
For 2020-21, I had four preps: Physics, AP Physics 1, AP Physics 2, and Conceptual Physics. Transforming each of these classes to online versions has been ... difficult. And, to be delicate, the efficacy/effort ratio has not been high. I'm maintaining a headache that doesn't show signs of subsiding. My screen time exceeds any health-conscious dosage recommendations.
In November, my district offered the same wee early retirement incentive. Same exact numbers as it offered in January. But they looked quite different to my newly throbbing eyes. Less insulting and more inviting. Bordering on irresistible.
There's a significant pension prize if I stay the course for two more years. But here’s what I'm looking at.
The course I polished over 35 years will be gone. A course I’ve never taught will take its place. There may or may not be a new textbook for the new course. There will be no 180-day curriculum with pacing guide/road map for this new course. No lab manual. No new lab materials. No test bank. Teachers might be given "release time" to develop such during the summer and/or during the year. Scratch that: there will be no budget for such extravagances.
In fairness, this was what I walked into in 1986. I developed my course on my own, with direct and indirect help from mentors. And I was happy to do the work. Hard work. But I was bringing my vision of the course to life within my operational constraints. And I got better and better at loosening those constraints. The enterprise was enjoyable, challenging, and engaging. I was supported by the school and parents. I knew I was playing a long game, so I mixed patience with my determination.
What's happening now is different. I'm being compelled to implement a vision I was not invited to create. This has been true of the redesigned AP Physics 1 and 2 for a few years, and has not been enjoyable. Doing the same with the new Physics of the Universe does not appeal to me.
Predictions are difficult, especially when the future is involved. But it’s hard to see school districts in the next few years being flush with enough cash to fund curriculum development. Or anything else. We’ve had furloughs in the past. I don't see good times ahead for school district budgets. My district is keen to replace me with someone lower on the pay scale. The budget is prioritized over instructional quality. But that's always been true; you a priori-tize that assumption going in, and do well because it's important to you.
The recently-redesigned AP Physics 1 will certainly still be there. I haven't made a secret of my antipathy for that redesign and especially for the accompanying exam. But the College Board has convinced themselves that they are doing good in the world and so they will continue. Schools use AP courses to market themselves, so AP will continue as a thriving product line. I enjoy the course; I don't enjoy the test-prep aspect.
AP Physics 2 is a bit more on the bubble. It’s a tough sell, a second year of AP Physics in high school. My principal has made it a priority to run it, and I love teaching the material. To me, much of the AP2 material is more interesting than what we do in AP1. The district is in the process of adopting a new textbook for AP Physics 1 and 2. Our current textbook is ©2007 and was pretty shiny when we adopted it for AP Physics B in 2008. That was the last time we adopted physics books, now 13 years ago.
So two years of a developing course and one or two AP courses whose exams have lost their lustre. In a world of no books or piloting new books. With budget cuts looming. While we await full implementation of vaccines in a nation where anti-vaxxers stand loud and proud.
Which part of that seems unappealing, right?
When I envisioned 23AndMe, Physics was transitioning to Physics of the Universe in a controlled manner with the participation of colleagues who would be left in charge of teaching it when I was gone. I actually designed the transition process for my school. The economy was such that I could expect a raise to be negotiated before I retired. And I had not experienced Remote Teaching/Distance Learning of four courses for the better part of a school year.
There's more about short- and long-term issues that have altered my perspective, but this post has self-indulged quite enough (even for a blog post). Anything else I need to say will be posted in the comments. I'm dropping this post like a bread crum in case I ever wonder "What was I thinking?" in the years to come. (As Sade once sang, "The rose we remember, the thorns we forget.")
I think it's time for me to turn the page and move on. As the implications of this life-change settle into my features, I feel some subtle tingles of a
weight being lifted normal force being reduced.
I'm 35 years into the career. No one who was working at my school when I arrived is still there now. "Early retirement" feels like a misnomer. CalSTRS estimates over 16,000 California teachers will be retiring this year.