BRATTLEBORO -- Tim Kipp, who teaches history, law and a political science course at Brattleboro Union High School, has packed up his briefcase. He is retiring after a career that has spanned 39 years, 27 of them at BUHS.
"I taught at Leland & Gray and then at Keene State in the Upward Bound program," he said during a recent interview. "I was assistant director in that program as well as adjunct professor in the history department."
Looking back over his career, he commented that his teaching centered on action.
"What has made me happiest is getting students politically aware and committed to social change -- in the practical sense, not just learning about social change, but doing it, becoming active," he said.
"I think that for me there's a very fine line between teaching and acting," he said. "The philosopher Alfred Lord Whitehead said, ‘Knowledge is like cordwood; if you don't use it, it will rot.' Noam Chomsky said that knowledge isn't enough."
Over the years he has supported students as their awareness translated into social and political action -- either individually, or in groups like the student-led organization Child Labor Education and Action (CLEA).
"I got countless kids working on political campaigns -- local, state, federal -- over the years. Last year kids put in over 600 hours on campaigns," he noted.
"There are others that they've been involved in; the most recent is Students Supporting Veterans," he said. "We are associated with a small organization called Home at Last; the goal for all of us is to provide homes for homeless veterans. The kids have been fundraising. There are three parts to this organization: the first is raising awareness -- education; the second is fundraising, and the third is actual direct services -- groundskeeping and maintenance for the trailers that veterans live in, which are permanent homes. We work with the Veterans Administration."
He is also proud of his students' individual activism, noting that students have had over 50 articles published in the newspaper in the last year, either as op-ed pieces or as letters to the editor.
As he leaves the classroom, he is conflicted about the direction education seems to be taking nationally, particularly the emphasis on testing.
"We're trying to objectify a subjective reality -- ‘little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same,'" he said. "That to me is the most disturbing, particularly with a group of very humanistic faculty at BUHS, so I know I'm not the only one feeling this. I have great respect for my colleagues and how committed they are to the individual kids, to making the most of that individual's education. Reducing education to some ‘quantifiable number' demeans our profession. It's a corporate model of ‘big data.' You know what corporations have done for us.
"My feeling is that there's an enormous amount of creativity that I'm seeing in education, despite the winds of conformity," Kipp said. "Teachers are structuring learning in ways that I think can meet a wide variety of needs. I remember the first years of teaching, I'd get up and lecture. I would never do that now, although I love lecturing. In that regard, I am more optimistic about the profession. It's the teachers who can overcome the needs of the bureaucracy, and the BUHS faculty is a fabulous example of that."
Kipp said that teaching didn't come easily to him at first.
"In the first month of my teaching, I went home crying, thinking I had made the wrong decision because it was so challenging, it was so difficult, it was seemingly impossible," he remembered. "It got better, seemingly week to week, as I became more perceptive and skilled. In many ways I don't think you can really teach how to teach; a good teacher has to develop his or her style, his or her methodology, and not from some professor in college who hasn't been in the classroom for years. Once you realize that you can be effective, it's an extraordinary experience. I still love what I'm doing, and I'm ambivalent about retiring.
"Diderot said of Voltaire that the facts and the content of what he taught would disappear from students' minds, but the passion would always remain," Kipp said. "For me, being passionate about the content and the possibility of social change has informed and propelled me. I love taking a kid who comes into my class the first day with what looks like a permanent scowl etched on his face, and getting him excited about the subject. It doesn't happen always, but we've all had that experience."
Kipp and his wife, Kathy Keller, who teaches dance in the Career Center, will both be retiring in June. He said he's not sure exactly what direction their lives will take.
"Kathy and I are going to improvise," he said.
Maggie Cassidy teaches French at Brattleboro Union High School.