Thursday, June 11, 2009

And So It Goes

This was it. This was my last day of teaching for this school year. There are so many ways to summarize, reflect, analyze, consider, but right now my feelings are not the elated, accomplished exhaustion I'd expected upon completion of what's supposed to be the most difficult year of my teaching career. Right now it's just bittersweet. The sweetness of all the things my students have actually learned this year, of all the new things that they can do because they were in my math class. Every student who gave me a hug goodbye and told me they would miss me. The notes I got thanking for me for things I didn't even know I'd done. The teachers who check in with me like the first year teacher I am, but value my input as if I have years of experience. The passion in their voices and their actions for the school they love, and that I've come to love so much as well.

Maybe if the kids weren't so nice and if the other teachers weren't so brilliant, I wouldn't be so bitter. As little as I believe in fate or destiny, everything seemed like it fell into place with this school. It's a legendary place, a Mecca of math teaching. Back in the fall of grad school, I remember people from home asking if I planned to stay in California. I said no, not likely--unless I could somehow get a job this one school... A few months later when I visited some classes, a student asked if I was a teacher there. I said no, but that I hoped to be. He pointed to the construction going on outside and told me that he hoped I'd get the job and maybe teach in one of the new classrooms. In September I was handed the keys to one of those classrooms.

So if all the stars aligned with the right job opening at the right time and connections with the right people, why did those stars fall out of place so quickly? I am bitter as all hell that I've been forced from this school by a board and district administration that says there's no other way to save money. I am even more infinitely bitter that the "reduction in force" hit 15-20 other teachers and that those who are "lucky" enough to stay behind have been hit from all directions with mandates and dicta forcing into pedagogical corners. I'm bitter for every one of my students who felt like they had to say goodbye because there is no see you later or have a good summer. I'm bitter for the posters that students brought to their self-organized protest yesterday that pictured a favorite teacher and bore the words "I wouldn't be walking across the stage if it weren't for her." I'm bitter that it seems to be more heavily hitting our school than the one that is literally on the right side of the train tracks.

So my first year teaching was all I'd dreamed it would be. It was difficult and challenging and exhausting and ridiculous and just plain hard. It was exciting and supportive and fun and hilarious. It provided an even clearer realization of just how high the learning curve is in this career. And my first year teaching was not all I'd dreamed it would be. It was union meetings and layoff notices and blackboard configurations and unresponsive administrators and heartbreakingly unrealistic optimism from my colleagues, my students, and myself that everything would turn out okay.

It did turn out okay. I had unlimited access to teachers who appear in videos and studies around the world as ideals of what good teaching looks like. I learned a curriculum that's built on the ideas and structures I believe in most. I made professional and personal connections that have already opened doors in my career. I spent every day with the nicest kids I've ever met, laughing with them, watching them grow, and screaming at them in fits of rage. And I have a job next year at a completely different kind of school, an experiment in education where I will still meet amazing kids, still get to work with a great staff and will actually feel respected by the administration.

I expected to start my second year of teaching back in a room that was filled with my stuff, at a school where kids I used to teach would say hi to me, where I didn't have to learn where my mailbox is and how to take attendance and where to find paper. But for all the expectations that were stretched out of whack this year, who's to say what year two will bring?


Linda said...

Having learned about Wordle from you, I felt free to stick this post of yours into their mix. The good news is that while the word "bitter" is not tiny, the majority of the words are just the ones that you would have wanted to see--"teaching", "teachers", "students", "school" and "year"--stood out.

You got to California at a really rough time and your dream school so quickly got into your heart only to have it snatched away. I empathize with you and your students and your colleagues. As you say, who knows what next year will bring. Your ready now for whatever it may bring. You have seen some of the best and the worst of what teaching has to offer you.

Roni said...

Chin up, dude. You've a year of a great experience on your resume, with another year lined up right after it in another department. On paper this looks like consistent, diverse experience, and that's a good thing.

On the other hand, I can sympathise with you about the good byes. While I'm leaving under my own free will, I'm trying to remember that one of us, teacher or student, needs to leave school at some point. It's a part of the gig to say good bye. But I'm not terribly good at good byes.