Mark was a fraud. He was a know-nothing. His lack of experience and expertise would get him kicked off the job in a matter of weeks.
When Mark Reidel started as an elementary school teacher in the Cherry Creek School District 30 years ago, all of these fears played into his first days on the job.
“You just feel like you don’t know anything,” he adds.
It’s hard to match that feel of fear and intimidation with Mark, who is 57. With his easygoing, calm tone and his constant smile, he radiates a feel of confidence and ease, a comfort with his station and his role in public education.
That shift from nervous rookie to seasoned pro came from decades on the job. He’s made the shift from a newbie to a teacher who’s led elementary school classes across the district. For the past four years, Mark has served as a Star Mentor/Master Teacher with Cherry Creek. In that time, his role has shifted from teaching elementary school students to teaching the newest teachers in the district. As part of the district’s unique mentoring program, Mark spends an entire school year in the classroom with first-year teachers, offering insights and tips gleaned from decades in the district.
“I’m in classrooms every day, and I see the really good parts of it, in a way. I’m not doing the grades or the discipline,” Mark says. “In a lot of ways, I do miss teaching. When you’re sitting in someone else’s classroom, you think, ‘Hey, I would have done this.’ Your mind is always clicking.”
That style showed during a year-round class held at Eastridge Community Elementary School in Aurora that took place weeks before the beginning of the regular school year. Mark sat apart as teacher Sunita Vo led a year-round class through a lesson about writing a themed paragraph, this one dealing with what a perfect birthday party would be. As she beamed a cartoon of a hamburger on the white-erase board, he sat at a nearby table, his laptop open, scanning the small crowd of faces and taking note of the teacher’s comments.
As the students started their writing projects, Mark wandered around the room, fielding questions about spelling and grammar.
At one point, he stopped at a table and asked one student how she ended up with a cast on her arm. His genuine note of concern and attention drew an unguarded response from the student. He sees that kind of personal touch as the key to good teaching.
“The public might think that all we do is open up that teacher’s guide and everything is scripted for us,” says Mark. “I don’t think they realize the emotional side of that job. You have kids coming in with problems. Things happen during the day. You’re working with individuals; you’re working with kids. There’s a lot of emotional involvement.
“I don’t think people who haven’t been in schools before understand that side of the job,” he adds.
That’s one of the constant elements in the perennial debates that come up around what makes an effective teacher. There’s constant déja vu when Reidel thinks about the public scrutiny of teachers’ unions, the perils of budget cuts and new directions in learning.
“I remember my first or second year, the teachers threatened to walk out of the buildings at Cherry Creek. It was over teacher’s pay. This is nothing new,” he notes. “I think people forget, over time. We hear all of these things about school. It’s that pendulum, I think that’s such a good analogy.”
Through all the trends that have come and gone and come back again, however, Mark has seen profound changes to the discipline. There’s the transformative role of technology in the classroom, the changes in standardized tests and the weight added by the No Child Left Behind legislation. In the post-Columbine, post-Sandy Hook era, teachers now have to build up a degree of skill in security and emergency response.
He is quick to smile and insist that he’s always eager to embrace change, that his profession demands a constant element of training and retraining.
Still, at its core, the role of teacher has always held a very basic challenge for Mark. It’s one he sees each new teacher tackle in different ways at the beginning of every school year.
“How am I being looked at? How does my administrator feel about my job? What are the parents talking about when they’re in the supermarket?” Mark says. “That goes through your mind a lot when you’re a teacher, because you’re out there. You’re that person.”