Friday, November 5, 2010

1994 and 2010

In December of 1994, I realized I wasn't happy. Teaching wasn't fun anymore. Too much work, too little pay off. Weekends filled with paperwork, class sizes of 38, a block schedule that left me feeling disconnected to the students, three subjects to prepare for (in teacher parlance, three preps)--two I'd never taught before--and all in a new school. The history department was warm, but the English department was Siberia.

I took three years' leave of absence.

The first year I went to several career counselors, did every exercise in Richard Bolles's What Color Is Your Parachute, read books like crazy, went to Europe for three weeks, and did a lot of thinking. Thinking, reading--a good time.

The second year I went to Harvard University's Graduate School of Education to earn a master's degree. I had to choose a concentration, and though administration never had held (nor does it now) any charm, I chose Administration, Planning, and Social Policy. A believer in the transformational power of education, the social policy aspects seemed attractive. I learned much about charter schools, and even had one class co-taught by Tony Alvarado, my future superintendent Alan Bersin's future right hand man.

The third year I hunted for positions as a staff developer, naively thinking my fancy master's degree would be powerful enough to counter my lack of experience in staff development. I taught a few classes at National University (more on that in a future post), worked at Sylvan Learning Center for a few bucks above minimum wage, and....ran out of money.

Back to SDUSD and into the greatest job ever. I was in love again, passionate about becoming the Best Teacher Ever. Impossible, of course, but I wanted every class to be better than the one before, tried every lesson to improve; I wanted to be a part of the transformation of kids' lives. I worked very hard, was inspired by the amazing staff I worked with, and felt like I was making a difference.

A decade later, and I am feeling like it's 1994 all over again. I don't know what to do.


  1. I have to say whenever I think about the teachers who inspired me to learn the most you are at the top of the list with good reason! You brought an energy into the classroom that made learning fun with your plays and various activities. Your passion really showed and I think it passed on to the students!

  2. Well it was fun to teach such a good writer, I'll tell you that--thanks, Joel. I am experiencing the tension between what I would like to be and the time it takes to be that. I've talked to my principal about changing my assignment next year...we'll see. I am thinking that I don't need to take a whole year off--maybe work part time or perhaps teach subjects that are less paper-intensive. I just dunno. Thank you so much for your encouragement. Much penguin love to you.

  3. Any chance there could be an acting/theatre elective or something? No paper at all there! And its just a tiny step from your plays! Maybe even as a club since I am doubting a new elective can just sprout up in this economy. Otherwise I hope whatever break you take, or whatever you decide works out for the best.

    And thank you for the compliment! I'm participating in NaNoWriMo, got around 40,000 words already but my novel isn't even close to finished... I think it will end up around 100k yikes.

  4. That's a great idea--we actually have a drama class, taught by my next door bungalow neighbor. Maybe I'll check that out. Thanks again for your support. I want you to know that I will BUY your novel!

  5. Wow...thanks! I'll post a link when I got it published (using self publishing) on facebook most likely. Probably not for a couple months since December will be for editing and my girlfriend might do illustrations for me. (She's also doing Nano, and did it last year! English isn't her first language so all the more reason I am proud of her).

    Haha I am surprised my suggestion may actually be helpful! Best of Luck! Also, haven't you been there long enough to deserve a building better than a bungalow by now?

  6. You made a difference.

  7. Coulda had a classroom long ago, but there are several advantages about my bungalow:

    1) the drinking fountain
    2) the drinking fountain
    3) I am in a corner with some empty space next to me so we can get loud and not bother anyone and we have room for groups to plan skits
    4) I like all the natural light from the windows
    5) All the cool quotes in my door way and window panes would be left behind, and that big old flag on the ceiling is no fun to move
    6) The drinking fountain has the best water on campus. All the kids tell me this, so it's not just my imagination.

  8. Anonymous: It is so precious to be told that! I am so grateful!