Richard J. Geib
Foothill Technology High School
"Every morning for almost three years on my way to work I have sat stuck in pernicious L.A. freeway traffic... I don't want to do that anymore."
After much thought I have come to the conclusion that this will be my last year at Milken Community High School. It pains me to write this letter, as I have enjoyed being a member of the faculty at Milken and have worked hard to do my job as well as possible. (With all modesty I can say that no teacher has worked harder than me at Milken over these past three years. Some have worked as hard -- but none harder.) I have decided to move on for reasons having more to do with the nature of the environment in which Milken is located rather than the school or nature of the job itself. Let me briefly explain.
I started my teaching career working in the Los Angeles city schools which hardly deserve to be called "schools." Many of the students there were illiterate, and too many had long since been taught by being passed from grade to grade with little or no effort that an education involves nothing more than occupying a desk year after year without doing anything. The staff there had resigned themselves to doing the best they could and simply surviving day to day. Milken was very different, and it has been a privilege and an honor to teach here: I knew myself to be in a place devoted to learning and the life of the mind, felt myself to be one more scholar (in my own humble way) in a learning community. From the very beginning I looked around me and watched students straining and complaining under the weight of two or more hours of homework every night. I watched teachers pushing, pleading, cajoling, and threatening their students to do better and to achieve more. Students are challenged at Milken to take ideas seriously and admonished to meet high teacher (and parent) expectations: that is what makes an education profound -- what a true education costs the heart. Leaving the L.A. city schools, I was not sure if teaching was for me. As I leave Milken, I cannot envision doing anything else.
But I grew up in the suburbs where the public schools are excellent and private schools consequently almost non-existent. The Third World system of education in Los Angeles where the vast masses sit warehoused at inferior public schools in the lowlands and the elite attend expensive private schools up in the hills has never sat well with me. I am a product of middle-class America and desire to return to a middle-class environment. After eleven years in the city of Los Angeles I want to invest my adult life in a place with more open land, clean air, and sense of community and friendliness. Every morning for almost three years on my way to work I have sat stuck in pernicious L.A. freeway traffic, looking around me surrounded by strangers (re. my "neighbors") sitting in shiny new BMW automobiles talking on their carphones oblivious to the rest of the world. I don't want to do that anymore. I have found Los Angeles to be a vibrant, exciting place to be a young adult. It has less to offer mature adults who want to invest in a community, start families, and build a sense of "home."
Freshly transplanted from upstate New York, it seemed almost your first official act as "Head of School" at Milken was to offer me a job. Adjusting and learning at work over these past three years, I have sometimes wondered how you were also adjusting and learning on the job. I wondered if, in the face of the maelstroms and pressures that without a doubt swirl around an important, high profile job like yours, you looked back at your old position as principal of a quality suburban public school like Byron Hills with fondness and longing. Well, I am off in search of my own Byron Hills. Wish me luck.
Very Truly Yours,