ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Del Norte High School opened its doors in 1964. It was the brand-spanking new Albuquerque high school modeled on the open-air shopping malls that were becoming all the rage.
That was 50 years ago, which means an anniversary is in the works. Del Norte former and current Knights will gather to mark the occasion on Friday evening at the sleek, brand-spanking new Del Norte building that replaced the old building two years ago.
When I found out that a number of the original teachers who helped open Del Norte – all of them long retired – would be in attendance and be honored, I wondered whether they would recognize the profession today.
The answer is yes, but barely.
Teachers like Frank Gilmer, who taught business the year Del Norte opened, can point to obvious changes. He taught Typing I and Typing II.
“Manual typewriters,” he says. “Then we went to electrics. Now they’d call it ‘keyboarding.’ ”
Beverly Cotton transferred from Sandia High School over to the new Del Norte in 1964, and she taught there only a few years before moving back to Sandia. In all, she was an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher for 33 years. She’s 79 now, and she told me that once you’re a teacher you always run into teachers and end up talking about teaching.
“I run across a lot of teachers,” she said, “and there are an awful lot of people teaching who don’t like it.”
Why might that be? Cotton, who taught high school biology with humor and passion – don’t get her started on her coed human reproduction lessons – had free rein to build her curriculum and take the material organically where it needed to go, she says. She didn’t have to worry about tailoring the material to the Standards Based Assessment exam, the End of Course exam or the Riverside Interim Assessment exam as teachers do now.
“There’s too much regimentation today,” she says. “A good teacher is not going to put up with that.”
The past often looks rosy through the rose-colored glasses of time. Was it really better before the alphabet soup of standardized student assessments and the exhaustive teacher evaluation system that now dominate the school year?
Judy Bearden was a kid when she moved from Texas to Albuquerque to start her first year as a teacher when Del Norte opened with two classes – sophomores and juniors.
“I wasn’t very much older than they were,” she says. “I was 21.”
Despite her youth, she says she doesn’t remember having any problems with discipline. “Settle down” was enough to quiet the class.
“The kids were more courteous,” she says. “I think they got more encouragement at home and they came to school prepared to learn.”
Bearden met Frank Love, who taught social studies and coached the basketball team, and they married three years later. The new Mrs. Love had to transfer to Highland High School because of a policy that prevented married couples from teaching at the same school.
Frank Love started teaching in APS in 1957 (monthly take-home pay: $276) and he remembers a freedom to design his curriculum and to work with his principal without worrying about any other bureaucracy.
“It was a lot different then,” Love says. “Now everything’s so standardized.”
He selected his textbooks, and the extent of his yearly evaluation was a visit from the principal to observe his class and give him pointers.
His wife, Judy, who retired from teaching in 1989, cites the Lottery Scholarship as a bright spot that allows more students to get ahead, but she said she can’t imagine navigating a classroom today based on what she reads and hears from teachers in her education sorority about the frequency of tests, the graduation rate and student achievement numbers.
“You hate to sound like you’re preaching doomsday,” she said, “but it’s just really, really sad.”
The Del Norte hoopla from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday won’t be sad, especially the unveiling of a renovated Del Norte knight statue scheduled for 6 p.m.
It won’t be a 50th reunion, either. That’s because the first graduating class was in 1966 and its 50th reunion is still two years away.
But for the students and teachers who launched the new school in the fall of 1964, it’s a time to reconnect and remember – and maybe reflect on what has changed.