Forty-two years ago, the Ballard Community School District took a chance on a self-described “baby boomer seeking a teaching job.” They hired Ann Lem, and at the end of this current school year, Lem — who has taught 16 different high school courses and held nine different extracurricular positions for the district — will retire.
“My husband and I plan to travel, to spend time with family and do all the usual things people plan to do with their retirement,” Lem said of what’s to come. “We like to spend time on the water and try to fish, though we are terrible at catching anything. We have fun with it anyway. I hope to read a lot more and to try new things that I couldn’t squeeze into my schedule before.” She also plans to continue a small part-time job she’s had for a few years.
When it comes to family, she notes that her son and daughter and their families live in the area now, and “we are thoroughly enjoying being grandparents and look forward to spending more time with everyone.” She said she and her husband’s mothers are still living in Iowa, and they will also get some of their time.
Looking back, Lem noted that at the time she graduated from college, there were a lot of recent graduates wanting to enter the teaching field. “Getting a position was quite a challenge,” she said, so she is grateful that Ballard offered her a job; the community, she added, has been good to her.
Lem grew up in eastern Iowa, and said a variety of part-time jobs were part of her younger years. “While I was in high school and college … I sold paint and building materials at K-Mart, I worked in the receiving area at Target and I was a receptionist at a retirement community. I learned a lot from each of those jobs,” she said, and added, “They still influence me today.”
Teaching English has been her mainstay as an educator. She currently teaches high school English, nearly all of the electives in it, and is also the high school’s Extended Learning Program advisor, Advanced Placement coordinator, senior class sponsor and advisor for the school’s literary magazine.
“I have taught in this (English) position my entire career, but I hold some other certifications; so I have also taught some social studies classes in the past,” she said.
When asked what she enjoys most about teaching, she answered, “There’s so much I like.” For starters, she said, “I have appreciated my opportunities to continually learn from my students, my peers, my coursework. High school students are the best. They are funny, genuine and insightful. I have laughed with them every day.”
In addition, she believes she’s had the chance to grow as the field of education has grown. “We know so much more about effective teaching now than we knew when I started teaching. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable to upgrade my knowledge and my skills as research provides us with evidence of what works well and what we should stop doing. I’m grateful for a career that has evolved and allowed me to keep learning. Change is good.”
Like everything, teaching has challenges. When asked about those, Lem first commented on all the hoop-jumping that gets in the way of what would be the best use of students’ and teachers’ time.
“I have become frustrated by legislators who are quick to create laws or to make changes to the field of education on the basis of what seems to be little evidence or experience. I’d like to see federal and state lawmakers and leaders spend some significant time teaching before they believe they have enough knowledge to determine what should be done,” she said. “Decision-makers at every level, even those who formerly taught, should regularly spend a couple of weeks teaching in a classroom. Memories fade and times change. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, ‘We don’t know what we don’t know.’”
Last, but not least, she talks about the challenge of safety. “There’s no denying the safety of students and teachers has also become a serious concern,” she stated. “Why legislators have so much trouble protecting children’s lives, I do not understand. It seems as if that should always be at the absolute top of their agenda.”
Forty-two years of teaching at Ballard has gone fast. “It doesn’t seem that long,” she said.
For new teachers, she has a little advice: “Build relationships and be patient with yourselves. It gets better every year.”