Prompt: Something you miss
I miss high school—not my teenage years but the years I spent teaching high school English.
A few weeks ago, I went to the local high school with my son to see his friends play a 10-minute exhibition game as the half-time entertainment for the boys’ basketball game. As soon as I walked into the building, I felt the energy that only exists in a school: An energy fueled by youthful hope and ambition.
We were a little early, so we sat in the bleachers by Ian’s friends. As I looked at the faces on the court, I was disappointed that I didn’t know anyone. Then I immediately chastised myself. How could I know anyone in this building? I don’t teach here. I don’t teach at any high school anymore. My heart began to ache.
Ridiculously, I fought back tears. Why did I leave a place I loved so much? How could I resign from a position that defined my purpose in life? How could I leave the students who needed me?
I looked at the parents, siblings, students, and teachers sitting in the stands. In Colorado I would have had at least one if not five people approach me while I was sitting there—a student just to say hi or a parent thanking me for working with his or her child or an older sibling back from college telling me I made a difference. But here, in this high school, no one knows me: None know that I used to change lives for the better; none know that I would lose sleep worrying about students just like them; none know how much it meant to my students to see me sitting in bleachers just like these.
While Ian watched his friends play, I evaluated what to do with this surprising surge of emotion. Did this mean I should start applying for secondary teaching jobs? Would anyone even hire me after my public resignation letter? If so, could I really work fulltime in a public school again? That thought brought a new surge of pain and questions. How could I go back to a public school, no matter how much I loved it, when the reason I left still exists? How could I be part of a system that aims to replace hope and ambition with standards and test scores? How could I go back to a profession that is being exploited by corporate greed and destroyed by bureaucrats with little concern for our children?
As my mind and heart raced, I thought about my college students. I am still changing lives and losing sleep over them, but I’m not immersed in the community the way I was in high school. As an adjunct, I just show up for class. If a student has questions, I stay on campus a little longer, but I’m free to leave when I’m done. I know I am still making a difference with my college students, but at a community college, I have many nontraditional students who are no longer teenagers in their formative years. Nevertheless, they respond positively to my encouragement, tough love, and passion. Most of my students leave at the end of a semester better prepared for their futures. Some students, however, don’t make it to the end of the semester. They didn’t start this process with the necessary work ethic or resilience to battle through entitlement issues, to embrace the demands of a college class and grow stronger mentally and emotionally because of it—skills I made sure I taught in high school.
I also thought about my financial situation. I’m barely making it right now. I chose to work as an adjunct so that I would have time to write. But a part-time adjunct position has just as much work as a fulltime high school position with a quarter of the pay. So I have less money and still have limited time for writing. If I taught fulltime again, I would at least have money, but I wouldn’t have as much time with my son.
So where does this leave me? How do I get all of my son’s and my needs met without sacrificing my convictions? How can I still be part of a system that encourages and builds up students when they are at their most vulnerable?
This semester, I put a few things in place: I started tutoring a high school student, which has been great. I also am on the subbing list for the middle and high schools in the area. My son will be moving up next year, so I hope to have more jobs in the middle school—that would be the best of both worlds.
Last week, I had my first subbing assignment in the middle school—8th grade English. I felt the energy again as soon as I walked into the building. Being a substitute is definitely different from being the main classroom teacher: Some students tested my teaching abilities immediately. They brought their phones out, walked around the room, sat next to friends, talked while I talked, but they quickly found out I was in charge, but not with an iron fist. I smiled, laughed, and quietly controlled the room. Some students were sweet and wanted to talk to me. I loved it all! I felt like I was home. This was a viable solution for my heartache. Maybe, if I were there enough, students would remember and recognize me. I could be part of this system, encourage teenagers, and make some extra money.
Ironically, while Ian was jumping at Blitz and I was writing this post, a student from the 8th grade class I taught walked past me and stopped: “Hey! You’re the sub from the other day, aren’t you?”
I think this is going to work just fine.
This writing challenge was painful and cathartic. I cried while writing it, which helped me heal, but it also renewed my passion for true educational reformation. After I published this post, I realized I had more to say about education and the teachers leaving the profession, like me, with broken hearts. I turned this challenge into a post that is now on Huffington Post. You can get to that post here.