You won’t hear her complain.
Nor will she let you get away with it.
That’s the beauty of Bea. You go to her because you want a shoulder to cry on, and she’ll point you to the wheel upon which your shoulder should be pressed.
Bea Beyer, 81, has been around here quite some time. Raised three boys. And raised at least a thousand more during her time as a teacher and administrator in the local schools.
I asked her this week to dispense a bit of her educational philosophy.
She was not at a loss for words. Rarely is.
She said she got into teaching as a practical matter. She and then-husband Heimo Ladinig had three young kids. And as Heimo worked in lift maintenance at Mammoth Mountain and often found himself hanging upside down from lift towers, Bea figured she needed a career beyond waitressing and maid work on the off-chance Heimo didn’t come home.
She had a degree from UCLA (class of ’64), and talked Whittier College into allowing her to pursue a teaching credential from afar. “I was the original distance learner,” she says, and juggled her studies, three jobs and three kids.
Without Zoom. Or much academic support from afar.
But locally, she did have Joe Maruca, who allowed her to student-teach at Mammoth High School. This was also unprecedented at the time. “Joe was a legend,” recalls Bea. As well as a memorable character. “He was an ex-Marine and an ex-Jesuit who chewed tobacco nonstop.” But no one cared more about kids than Joe.
“Teaching,” says Bea, “is about expectations. Having the expectation that every kid can and will learn. You don’t need the hammer. You don’t need any of that crap. If you give a kid an ‘F’, you should give yourself an ‘F.’”
She says she gave out four ‘F’s in her entire career. She remembers each. “I can name the kids. I cried with their parents. The whole nine yards.”
Why did she ultimately get into school administration?
She found herself becoming increasingly critical about district operations. So she said to herself, “Well then, maybe I should get into that trench and see what I can do.”
Of the many programs she initiated, Mock Trial stands out. She facilitated it for 23 years.
Mock Trial is a competition in which students simulate a real trial in front of real, local judges.
“Talk about teaching a work ethic,” says Bea. “You’ve got a real court and judges. You’ve got to be punctual. You’ve got to be prepared. Kids learn what it takes to do a career like that.”
Sheet: How did teaching impact your parenting?
“Having kids before I went into teaching made me a better teacher, because I had a sense of what worked and what didn’t … I was a harsh taskmaster with my own kids, but they appreciate it now.”
Another taskmaster of note whom Bea recalls fondly: Petra Schaubmayer. “She brooked no fools,” says Bea matter-of-factly.
So what’s Bea’s current view of the world? Of education?
She brought up George Clooney’s recent lament about the “coarsening” of our culture.
She herself laments that “teenspeak” has become the new norm.
She bemoans lazy reliance upon the word ‘like’ and phrases such as ‘you guys.’ And is frustrated with those who speak sentences that they inflect up at the end like questions. She calls that Valley Girl speak. “It’s so sad.”
In her classrooms, students would get fined a quarter for every ‘like.’ At the end of the month, it would pay for a pizza party.
These days you could pay for a pizza party in a day.
She has a pet peeve about the usage of lay versus lie, and cited a book on grammar called “Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lay.”
During their first meeting, her oncologist told her to lay down.
Bea corrected her. After all, if she was telling Bea to lay down, she was making the same mistake with other patients dozens of times per day.
Her late mother, who didn’t move to the States until she was in her 30s, became a well-respected proofreader and editor in her second language.
We should be able to do half as well in our native tongues, says Bea.
Finally, at 81, she has a few thoughts on mortality.
She subscribes to the Bob Schotz philosophy: “We’re all gonna die sometime. Don’t pretend you’re not.” Medical advances, she adds, have led to “an artificial extension of something which should be far more finite.”
“Mortality,” she concludes, “puts human yearning in perspective.”
Her mantra these days is decidedly terse. This is what she finds herself frequently saying.
“Move on. It doesn’t matter.”
Which is pretty funny coming from Bea. And she won’t fool anyone with such flippancy. For Bea, a whole lot matters and will always matter.
If I had to summarize Bea’s life philosophy, I might do it in two words.
If I had a few more words, which I do – newspaper publishing has its privileges – I would add this pithy observation Bea made as I exited her kitchen.
“Making the best of what we have is a dying art.”