Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Nomad Moves On


The (semi-)Portable Classroom

It's time to go. Time to hand over all eleven school keys and trade them in for a single classroom key. Time to give up the shared English classroom, two rooms a day, the daily clothes-changing in the cold bathroom between second and third period, the dual departments, the conflicting schedules and the hours and hours after school, the worrying late at night, the pressing deadlines, those that will never be happy with all that I have to give them... It's time.

I'm packed, the room is mopped, my grades are done, and I am basically just waiting until tomorrow or Thursday to move, once I get the final word on where my classroom will be. I've had a different room every year I've taught, which is 7 and a half at this point. That's 8 rooms for English, plus the dance room, so nine rooms in 7 years. That's kind of a lot. That doesn't even count the mid-year room changes to make the day easier or the multiple room-hops each day (two years straight I was in three rooms a day). I'm tired. I'm momentarily homeless. I want to be in a room and stay there all day. Selfishly, I want it all to myself so I can be messy or neat or weird or grumpy and not have to be in somebody else's way.

When I started teaching, my room, my desk, and my life felt so empty. I filled them with garage sale finds and things I bought at WalMart and Staples, to the point that eventually I had too much to cart around every year. Three years ago I abandoned my classroom library and most of my furniture so I could travel light--became a full time nomad. Imagine my surprise when I cleaned out the dance room yesteday and discovered that I had an entire pile that needs to be moved to my new room. When you teach, though, you have to be a pack rat. You have to be territorial. You have to stake your claim. That's the reason every stapler I own says my name on it--I don't want to lose the "good" staplers. It's all in the hopes that a supply or two will stick around for more than a year and you'll save yourself a buck the next time.

It's been good for me to go through everything this week. It's reminded me that I really miss some of the sweet families that I got to know through this job. It's also reminded me that there's been a gradual shift in the students just in the six years I've been coaching. Not to rely too heavily on a cliche, but from my view it's a different world. It's such a world of entitlement. It's a world where parent complaints are more of the reality than parent support. It's a world where 'thank you' is seldom heard and examples selflessness and volunteering are few and far between. It's a world that's about how can you make an exception for me? rather than how can I be a supportive part of the team? It's a world where most people want to do the minimum but reap maximum benefits--I just can't make that work. It's also a world where the arts are not as valued, and as is normal when the state, district, and school are facing monetary cuts, "superfluous" programs are the first to go. All this is just my opinion, of course. Just what I see. I can't change it, I've let it go and made my peace, I'm just saying it was time. It is time.

I had so much hope when I started. So much of a genuine desire to connect with those I was coaching. Connecting requires vulnerability though, and vulnerability means getting hurt. It just happened too many times. When you give everything you have to give and still it isn't enough, or it isn't right, what's left? People let you down--that's inevitable--but when the negatives and the complaints drown out the gratitude, it becomes time to let go. Part of that is the job--it's changing, and we're living in a situation where teachers practically need to be lawyers to cover themselves. Part of it is my crummy personal life, decision to divorce, and then decision to not divorce that have taken their toll and left me bereft of any extraneous energy to give--I don't pretend otherwise. It's all these things together...

I'm just ready for a change. Teaching has so many opportunities for reinventing oneself. I know there are still so many kids out there that need to know an adult cares about them. And I am sure that many of them are willing to be non-punks in return. I am setting off in search of those kiddos.

I'm not leaving my school, but it almost feels that way. I'm going to be teaching in an academy--a Distinguished one at that. It will bring new opportunities to meet people, new opportunities to make a difference in my community, and new opportunities to create curriculum, which is my favorite thing to do (well, second only to chart-making). The blessing of teaching in a large district such as mine is the potential for career change. The future is wide open.

As I pack, I'm thankful for all the loving, positive faces I've taught. I'm blessed by reading the back of their senior portraits and prom pictures, and my heart warms as I pack away their little notes to Coach PDawg, the ones that had been tucked in the back of my desk drawer. So many kids have made a difference in my life. I thought I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to make a difference for them like so many did for me--so far I don't see much of that, honestly, but there have been so many who have impacted me. So many people that were willing to ask how I was every day, or to lend a hand with one of the manual labor tasks associated with this job. So many parents that sent a kind email or hosed down cars at a carwash or invited me over for dinner. I'm hoping that I have that kind of kindness ahead of me on my career path. I'm eager to see what happens.

For the next two days I'll be sitting here, pondering the emptiness of this room... lamenting that the program didn't have more support recently... mourning the loss revenue in the state budget... hoping that someone takes over the program that understands what it needs to be--what it can be.

I'll be simultaneously exhausted, nostalgic, and optimistic.

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