Offers 'heartfelt thank you' to countless former students
[Following is an open letter from former New Milford High School teacher Stephen Flanagan to residents of New Milford and former NMHS students and fellow teachers. Mr. Flanagan resigned from his position effective June 30, 2012].
On July 1, I officially retired from the New Milford High School history department.
Throughout my career, I was the beneficiary of the good will of the thousands of students who passed through my classroom, my duty assignments and those I just got to know.
To them, I owe a great debt of gratitude.
When my career came to its end last December, it was their care and concern, the countless good wishes and solicitations about my well-being that sustained me through a difficult time.
The students of New Milford High School who I was privileged to have entrusted to my care have always treated me with great respect, trust and kindness.
I have heard from more former students these past many months than I can count, going back to the start of my career. The support of my students, who know me best, means more to me than I can begin to explain or express.
At the end of one's career as a classroom teacher, it's not the endless meetings, countless new initiatives and "reforms," or the other aspects of a teacher's job that one remembers.
It's the students.
High school teachers are privileged to be present at an important and critical time in their student's lives. Sometimes, one is fortunate enough to try to be useful and helpful in not only teaching one's subject area, but in being a positive influence in the lives of students who don't always have many positive influences in their lives.
Students seek out someone who will listen to them as they sort through the many challenges of adolescence. Sometimes they need more assistance and you're in a position to direct them to that help. That requires trust and respect, which takes time and patience.
Students want to be treated like the rest of us want to be treated -- with patience, kindness, respect and with genuine concern and empathy for their problems.
A school or school system that is focused excessively on standardized test scores, as if that alone is a meaningful measure of a good school or a meaningful education, and does not create an atmosphere where students feel safe enough to trust the adults in their presence, fails those students who need help, regardless of how great their test scores look.
The future success our students enjoy in life will have less to do with their test scores and a lot more to do with if they're emotionally healthy, well-adjusted, stable and trusting people.
A school in which students and teachers are afraid to talk and listen to each other, who are afraid to offer compassion and support, are afraid to extend empathy to one another, afraid to seek help, can never truly be successful in doing the core job of any school; to ensure the complete development and well-being of those students entrusted by their parents to the public school system.
I was fortunate to meet many supportive and concerned parents in my career. New Milford is blessed with many wonderful families.
But not all our students come from loving, cohesive or functional families. Those students especially need the help of the institution they spend most of their time in, the high school.
I always felt that I needed to have my "radar" working when dealing with students so as not to miss important things they were trying to tell me about their challenges and struggles.
For some students, just getting to school every day was a huge victory over terrible circumstances. I wanted to know their situations so I was better able to render appropriate assistance.
If you gained their trust, you were on the way to try to get them the help they needed.
I'm sure there were students who slipped beneath my radar, and I failed to help them as much as I could have.
But I hope there were many more I was able to teach effectively, to prepare for their future, be it college, work or the armed forces or was able to help through a difficult stretch in their adolescent life.
To all those thousands of students I was privileged to teach and know at NMHS, I say a sincere and heartfelt thank you.