The View From Here

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No one, including me, thought I’d be where I am right now, which is sitting in my own classroom surrounded by boxes on the last day of the school year.

Maybe it was that kid “lighting up” in my first class, the first day of school that had me screaming internally “Damn…Maybe I’m not cut out for this.”

Or maybe it was reading the explicit notes—addressed to me—that were posted to the pages of my photography books during a lesson. Or having my room broken into, twice. Or having my things stolen…or having a bottle thrown at me. Or sitting in the corner of my empty classroom alone, sobbing, as I texted my family during a campus lockdown while area police searched for an armed assailant at the edge of our campus.

Whatever the cause, the answer to the question of how long this gray-haired, middle-aged white woman from the ‘burbs would last as a first-year teacher in this deep East Oakland high school, was most assuredly “not long” in the minds of everyone, including me.

And yet, here I sit.

Here I sit typing at an empty table, cleared away of the shiny computers many of my students used for the first time ever. Here I sit staring at student work on the walls,  the product of a year’s worth of struggle, creativity, and growth, both my students’ and my own.

I’m not gonna lie…this year nearly killed me. For a person who always does more than is required, working in a school can be a hazardous place. There is always a deeper need than can be filled. Always one more policy to read, one more project to grade, one more lesson to plan, one more student to help. The true challenge for me next year will be finding a balance that enables me to continue to grow in my teaching practice, support my students well, while also making sure I have something left to give my family and myself at the end of the day. Because, let me tell you, that struggle is REAL.

A high school friend, also a teacher, recently posted to Facebook on her last day of school that it was “the only day of the year when everyone wishes they were a teacher.” Everyone envies the long summer break but no one tells you that it will be filled with professional development you will feel obliged to do in order to move over a column on that low pay scale. No one tells you that you will show up at 7am and leave at 5pm and then settle in at 8pm for a three-hour grading session once the kids go to bed. Regularly.

Even though there were many things in those first difficult weeks to cause any rational person to “peace-out” and head for the hills, there also were many more moments that fed my soul and gave me a reason to stay. Authentic conversations with kids. Proof some learning was taking place by the amazing work students were creating. My classroom becoming a hangout during lunch…a place where students felt accepted and comfortable being themselves.

I’m reminded of that old Peace Corps commercial with the tagline, “the hardest job you’ll ever love,” because it perfectly sums up teaching. It is a hard job. Made harder still by the myriad obstacles you must climb over every day to get to the pinnacle of the profession: low pay, long hours, limited resources, unreasonable expectations, self-doubt…It’s an exhausting climb. For an old newcomer like me, every step was excruciating. But when I look back down into the valley behind me and see how far I’ve come, I have to admit, the destination was worth the journey. The view from up here really is pretty spectacular.

Happy Summer!


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Getting Schooled

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Neatoday.orgOne month from now I’ll be teaching high school in Oakland, CA. I’ll be teaching awesome subjects like digital photography, animation, and game design. I have experience with each of these subjects in my professional and academic career, but next to zero experience teaching them with actual students. Therefore, the reality that I’ll be “on duty” fairly soon has left me feeling a little panicked and underprepared. That specific fear, the one of being unprepared (for whatever potential outcome you want to imagine) is kind of like my kryptonite: I do not ever want to encounter it. For this reason, I’ve put preparations for how to become the World’s Best First-Year Teacher Ever into overdrive.

This morning as I marinated in my cauldron of stress-induced cortisol stew, I started to wonder whether there was a limit to the human brain’s capacity to take in information. Not a limit on intelligence, or of one’s own capabilities per se, but like what happens to a glass pitcher if you kept pouring once the water’s reached the rim. Or what happens when a levee breaks. Or when a blood vessel bursts. I ask with a little anxiety about the answer…So…is there a hard ceiling on how much focused learning a person’s brain can handle? Like, at some point will it just explodeContinue reading »