Monday, April 30, 2018

Adventures in Teaching: Act Two

The decision to get back into teaching has been a very long, convoluted process. When I left back in 2011, I was essentially burned out. The public education system in Michigan had been under brutal attack by Betsy Devos (our current federal Secretary of Education), funding had been cut annually for years, we were losing tenure, our pay benefits were under attack, class sizes were ballooning, we were under mounting pressure to meet No Child Left Behind's annual yearly progress, and us teachers were constantly being portrayed as greedy and selfish for simply asking for raises that came relatively close to equaling inflation. We were increasingly losing autonomy to individualize instruction to meet the diverse needs of our students, and we were being blamed for this failure. 

It was painful and demoralizing. 

So why the Hell would I want to go back?!?

The Interim Years

After leaving the profession, we spent two years traveling the country teaching people how to run better. Then we settled in San Diego and started training jiu jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, and mma. During our time here in SoCal, I've worked a few different jobs completely unrelated to education, including:

  • Delivering packages and working in a warehouse for UPS
  • Working as a materials handler and receiver at a local lumber yard
  • Working as a freelance writer and blogger, which eventually led to writing Squirrel Wipe, Earthquake, Kids, and the development of Das Man Camp
  • Working as a lead generator and writer for a real estate agency
  • Driving for Uber
Somewhere in there, I decided to dabble in education again and took a job as a high school substitute teacher, then eventually school security jobs at an adult school and a middle school. Initially, I had zero desire to get back into teaching. Early in those experiences I didn't really experience anything that would significantly change my expectations about public education.

Two major experiences changed my perspective, though. First, I had the opportunity to work with some phenomenal adult education administrators at my first school security job. From them, I learned the ins and outs of the programs available to the kids who, earlier in their lives, were the kids who fell through the cracks and dropped out, were expelled, etc.

Second, I had the opportunity to work with some phenomenal middle school administrators at my second school security job. From them, I learned two major lessons. I had the opportunity to really peer into different families and how that affected students and administrator decision-making, which provided a much more complete picture than I had as a teacher. I also learned what educational experiences kids brought with them when they entered high school, and how that affected the various "types" of students I experienced as a high school teacher.

In essence, these experiences gave me a far better understanding of the entire landscape that is public education. The decisions others made that used to piss me off now made a lot more sense, and many of the kids we couldn't "save" would end up being just fine down the road. That monumental shift in expectations made me realize public education was a whole lot more effective than I had previously perceived. Once that hurdle was cleared, the motivation to return to the classroom came flooding back. 

So What's Different?

What exactly has changed from 2011 until today? Quite simply, it's nothing more than a wealth of "in the trenches" experience coupled with realistic expectations.

Before I started teaching back in '99, I was like most fresh-out-of-college educators. I had spent years immersed in various educational theories, most of which claimed to be "the solution" to all problems plaguing public education. I saw myself as a motivated, enthusiastic reformer who could do what all previous generations of teachers had failed to do - make a real difference. I was going to be like Michelle Pfeiffer in "Dangerous Minds", only better. I had all the answers. 

Yeah, it was pretty arrogant.

It didn't take long for reality to crush that delusion. As it turns out, not all kids can be inspired to learn. Not all kids behave. Not all parents are supportive. Not all administrators appreciate crazy new ideas that cause them problems. Innovation wasn't something that was welcomed. Or even effective. As it turns out, the education system is resistant to change. Throughout the twelve years I spent in the classroom the first time around, I never really understood why the system is so damn resistant. 

Now? I get it. I have a far deeper understanding of how the machinery of public education works. What I previously saw as complete failures in the system are actually carefully-designed systems to help kids in the future even if they can't be helped today. I now fully understand that the system isn't broken so much as misunderstood. And a deeper understanding of the system has made all the difference.

Act Two

In about fourteen weeks or so, I'll step back into a classroom as a full-time teacher for the first time in seven years. This time around, I have a vast toolbox of real-world tested pedagogical methods (how we teach) that can be deployed based on individual student needs. I have a well-honed toolbox of classroom management strategies to deal with a culturally and economically-diverse student population. I have a thorough understanding of how the various personnel, from administrators to secretaries to custodians, work together to make a school successful. I have the confidence and patience to deal with pretty much any situation that may arise because there's not much I haven't already experienced. I have a deep understanding of the trials and tribulations of school finance, and have have a wealth of strategies to do what I need to do with zero financial support from the school. 

Aside from these education-related experiences, I've also had a plethora of non-educational experiences that have made me a far different person than I was when I first started. I've learned a great deal about myself through overcoming adversity via ultrarunning, learning to be humble via Brazilian jiu jitsu, and learning to not fear the possibility of physical altercations via mixed martial arts training. I've also learned to overcome my supplicating and sycophant "Nice Guy" tendencies. I've also learned, thanks to my Das Man Camp project, how to actualize my masculine characteristics I used to fear, which has led me to develop the skills to become a real leader. 

Most importantly, though, I have the enthusiasm and passion I felt before getting that first job some twenty years ago. When coupled with a brutally honest set of expectations, I feel I'm finally in a position to maximize my ability to really make a difference. 


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Living in San Diego and East County: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We've lived in San Diego's East County for a tad under six years, which marks our second-longest tenure in one area. For nomadic hobos, that's a long time. During that time, we've had the opportunity to fully explore the Southern California area in general and San Diego in particular. As we've been preparing to move to Colorado, Shelly and I have been doing a lot of reflecting on our time spent here.

Harkening back to the shoe review days, I thought it would be fun to "review" the area. Given California conjures a slew of stereotypes, this accurate and honest assessment might be useful for anyone considering a move to SoCal.

Before I begin, it's worth noting this grading is done from the perspective of a slightly introverted, anti-materialistic, redneck-ish Midwesterner who grew up in the sticks of Northern Michigan who loves new experiences and adventures, especially outdoors. As you'll see, my biases obviously shape my assessment. YMMV.

So let's get started!

The Good

Southern California is an amazing place. There's a reason people flock to the area in droves. Over five million people have moved to the state over the last decade. These are some of the reasons the state is so damn popular:

  • Weather - The weather in San Diego is basically awesome 99% of the time. Temps in the mid-70's, low humidity, almost always sunny, and virtually no severe weather. As you move away from the ocean, we have more extreme temperature fluctuations (East County will see temps ranging from a low near freezing and highs over 100 degrees.) Still, San Diego has the most consistently-pleasant weather I've ever experienced. Light rain is treated like a minor catastrophe. Personally I miss the excitement of severe thunderstorms, tornado warnings, and blizzards, but never having to consider the weather in decision-making has been a nice convenience. 

  • Beaches - San Diego has miles and miles of world-class beaches. It's as simple as that. The thongs are a nice additional bonus. This is one of the things I will miss most about living here. 

  • The People - California has an interesting culture. There's a definite detachment; people seem to live in a bit of a bubble and don't usually pay attention to other people. That manifests as an overall friendliness and acceptance... everyone pretty much does their own thing. Nosey and judgmental people really don't exist here, which is a nice change from West Michigan. Weirdness is uncritically and universally accepted. We like that. Also, the area has a ton of cultural diversity, which we love. 
  • Mexican Food - After traveling all over the country including the entirety of the US/ Mexican border, I can confidently say San Diego has the best Mexican food in the US. And it ain't even close. Cheap, delicious authentic Mexican food is available pretty much everywhere, and various incarnations of Mexican fusion cuisine are plentiful. We're totally spoiled; after living here, the Mexican food we've eaten elsewhere is trash. 

  • Fresh Produce - We have a wide variety of cheap, flavorful, fresh produce available all year long. The "off season" produce here is better than the produce available during harvest season in the Midwest. This makes healthy eating exceptionally easy even on a limited budget. I don't think most native Californians appreciate how good the produce here is compared to the rest of the country.
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - Okay, this one's for a limited audience, but it's a reason we've stuck around here for almost six years. We love our gym (San Diego Fight Club), which is just one of close to a hundred legitimate bjj gyms/ schools/ academies here in San Diego County. This area is basically the biggest Mecca outside Brazil filled with a who's who of the sport.

The Bad

Southern California isn't all muffins wrapped in Rainbows. While five million people moved to the state, six million moved away. It's not uncommon for people to move to the area for the reasons listed above, live for a few years, then leave for the reasons listed below. 

  • Crime - Crime statistics, on paper, make the San Diego area seem relatively safe. Indeed, this handy tool indicates our former town of Allendale, Michigan is more crime-ridden than our current city of El Cajon, California. But crime stats only tell part of the story because many crimes aren't prosecuted. There's so much low-level crime here, the local police and legal system is completely overwhelmed. Criminal behavior that just gets ignored here would result in years in prison in Michigan. Theft, burglary, shoplifting, fraud, identity theft, minor assault, stalking, harassment... most of that is just ignored by the authorities because they have more significant public safety issues to contend with. As such, the area's a little bit like the Wild West. You have to take constant steps to protect yourself by always locking stuff up, locking doors, staying off the streets at night, always being vigilant when walking down the street, avoiding dangerous areas, etc. People who like to feel safe without taking precautions will not enjoy the area because you will be victimized in some way. I like that the area has been a good training ground to teach our kids about personal safety, but the constant vigilance is exhausting. 
  • Taxes and Regulations - The stereotypes are real. Taxes and regulations in California are ridiculous, mostly because the state pisses away money on really stupid projects and initiatives. Which results in a perpetually-stressed state budget. Not only are taxes outrageous, the fees for anything and everything are soul-crushing. The state bureaucracy is basically like a irresponsible, needy kid always begging you for five dollars here, fifty dollars there because they can't stop buying new farm machinery in Farmville. This place'll nickel and dime you to death. And starting a business? Fuggetaboutit. The red tape, fees, and taxes will kill your bottom line, no matter your business.
  • All Other Food, Including Beer - The food and beer here in San Diego is, relative to the rest of the country, shockingly mediocre. There are some notable exceptions, but this has been one of the most disappointing aspects of living here. Finding a phenomenal burger or pizza is almost impossible. Italian? Chinese? Thai? Indian? Japanese? All forgettable. Even the fast food and chain restaurants are pretty bad. And the beer? Pretty much all of it is over-hopped and harsh. If it weren't for the Mexican food, this area would be a culinary black hole. The only people who seem to think San Diego has great food are natives who have never traveled to other culinary epicenters. We've acclimated and lowered expectations, but we're reminded of this every time we travel out of the area, especially our vastly underrated former West Michigan home.
The only ingredient in San Diego beers...

  • Public Restrooms - California in general and Southern California in particular have some of the dirtiest, run-down public bathrooms I've ever seen in the United States. It's as bad or maybe even worse than New York City. This baffled me when we first moved here, but it turns out there's a very good explanation. I'll cover that in a bit. If you do need to find decent bathrooms, Starbucks, Walmart, and Target are usually among your best choices. Gas stations? Forget about it. 
  • Customer Service - First, I have to qualify this by saying we frequent quite a few businesses with amazing customer service because of their excellent customer service. Great service does exist in SoCal if you look for it. Need a recommendation on a place with great customer service? Just ask; I'm more than happy to support those businesses. But on the whole, customer service is atrocious. Far too many people in the service industry here are disinterested, unfriendly, and not especially helpful. If you actually need something, prepare to be assertive if not downright demanding and hostile.
  • The People - This is probably a cultural thing derived from being a Midwesterner. The same positives I mentioned above also have a real downside. People more or less live in their own little bubble, which also means they tend to be oblivious to anything and everything around them. When interacting with strangers in stores, on the sidewalk, or when driving, it's not uncommon for people to just wander into your path. It's as if everyone believes they're the only person occupying their immediate surroundings. It's a silly little detail, but gets infuriating after awhile. This is also part of the reason crime is rampant... far too many people are way too trusting and lack basic situational awareness. 

    The other real downside? Southern Californians, with a few exceptions, are soft. They don't experience a lot of adversity. There are no harsh winters. Serious natural disasters hit infrequently. The state provides ample social safety nets. If you're in trouble, someone else is always there to throw you a life preserver. Many residents aren't capable of even the most simple self-reliance tasks other people have learned out of necessity. Leisure is a way of life. This is a major reason all our friends here are martial artists, current or former military, law enforcement, or borderline criminals... we gravitated towards the few people who aren't fragile snowflakes. 

The Ugly

There are a few really bad aspects to the San Diego area, which are the deal-breakers for Shelly and I. The bad stuff above is tolerable, but this is the stuff that ultimately drove us to move. 

  • The Traffic - There are a lot of cars in San Diego. About 1.3 million people drive to work without carpooling. Less than 5% of the population uses public transportation, bikes, or walks to work. This problem is coupled by two "types" of drivers commonly found in San Diego - the overly-cautious and the dangerously-oblivious. Some drivers here are cautious to the extreme. It's not uncommon to see people coming to a near-complete stop to let someone merge on a highway. It's also not uncommon to see people completely ignoring traffic signs. And laws. Finally, traffic is made worse by a weird tendency to ignore the "slower vehicles to the right, faster vehicles to the left" norm found pretty much everywhere else. This results in many drivers passing on the left or right at seemingly random times, which makes them frustratingly unpredictable. Traveling anywhere near rush hour takes forever. As a country boy accustomed to driving at normal speeds to get from point A to point B, this aspect of San Diego royally sucks. 

  • The Crowds - It's impossible to escape the crowds in San Diego. Everywhere you go, there are people. Lots and lots of people. Everywhere. Grocery stores? Packed. Restaurants? Packed. Malls? Packed. Movie theaters? Packed. Museums? Packed. Beaches? Packed. Hiking trails? Packed. The only saving grace? Most people don't get started until about 9:30-10:00 in the morning, so there's a tiny sliver of time to get errands done without having to deal with the masses. Otherwise, every place is busy all the time. It's the only place I've ever lived where there are huge crowds everywhere even in the middle of a work day. People don't seem to work all that much in San Diego. 

  • Natural Disasters - Earthquakes, Santa Ana-fueled wildfires, mudslides, tsunamis, drought, and floods... all are significant dangers here in SoCal. There's even a small chance a hurricane could strike the area. Compounding this problem is a population that isn't especially resilient and is rather complacent when it comes to preparing for disasters. One significant earthquake along the San Andreas could feasibly cut off the California Aqueduct, a huge chunk of the electricity grid, and most landline communications. With few people prepared for days or weeks without water, food, or electricity, the entire region is precariously close to a complete social collapse. The possible dangers from all the potential disasters are manageable, but it's the human factor that scares me. 

  • The Homeless - Before moving here, I was very sympathetic to the homeless. Most homeless people I encountered in Michigan and elsewhere were victims of unfortunate circumstances beyond their control. Unemployed, the mentally-ill, veterans... you know, people like that. Here in SoCal? We have those folks. But we also have tweakers, junkies, petty criminals, sex offenders, and transients among our homeless population. They litter, wander into traffic, shit and piss everywhere (part of the reason our public restrooms suck), steal anything that's not bolted down, cause wildfires, harass kids and the elderly, spear hepatitis A and other diseases, and basically take over our public transportation system. As a school security guard, a major element of my job is patrolling every nook and cranny of our school grounds to make sure homeless people aren't living on our campus. To make matters worse, we have a lot of rich people who live in gated communities (ironically to keep out the homeless) who feed the homeless in places like public parks. That encourages the homeless to form large encampments away from the actual social services which serve their community, which makes most parks and other public lands unusually dangerous.

  • Cost of Housing - I could probably live with everything on this list if it weren't for this one. San Diego is the 10th most expensive place to live in the US. It's about 148% of the national average, mostly because of the ridiculous housing prices. In Michigan, we rented a very nice three bedroom, two bathroom 1,400 square foot duplex for $750. Here in California, we rent a shitty two bedroom 1,000 square foot apartment in an RV park for $1,200. If our apartment were a condo, it would cost around $350,000. In the town we're moving to in Colorado, we could buy two three bedroom, two bathroom single family houses for that price. Needless to say, the positives of living here do not offset the stupidly-expensive real estate prices. We've had a long-term dream of owning acreage for play, growing a garden, and raising animals, but that dream simply isn't possible here in SoCal. 


So... is San Diego worth it? If you're considering moving to the area, would I encourage or discourage you? 

For us, San Diego was a lot of fun. Until it wasn't. Like many areas that aren't great matches for our personalities, San Diego has a lot of fun and interesting things to offer. It also has some serious drawbacks. Despite those drawbacks, I do not regret our decision to live here for the last five-plus years. Aside from the life-changing experiences we've learned from our coaches and gym teammates, this has been a truly unique experience. It's allowed both Shelly and I to grow in a way we probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. For that, I'm eternally grateful. But it's time to go.

Would you love it? Maybe. If you have a high tolerance for crowds and traffic, can take care of your own shit, don't mind homeless people and panhandlers everywhere, and you're wealthy, San Diego might be a good fit. Minimally, it's a fun place to live for at least a few years. For single professionals? The place would probably be a blast... at least for a few years.

If you ever have the opportunity, give it a shot. 


Monday, April 16, 2018

What's the Appeal of Western Colorado?

Since we've begun telling people about our plans to move, we've been getting one question repeatedly - Why Western Colorado?

Admittedly, it is a somewhat strange destination. Even the folks interviewing me for the teaching position I wrote about in my last post seemed a little surprised this area was at the top of our relocation list.

Scouting While Traveling

The decision to make the Western Slope our top relocation destination started when we traveled the country teaching about barefoot running for Merrell. Over two years, we drove 50,000 miles through forty-six states. Some areas really resonated with us. Many didn't. 

Generally, we liked areas that were either rural or cities surrounded by rural openness. We liked mountains. We liked open spaces. We liked sun. 

We didn't like crowds, traffic, or hipsters. We didn't like pretentiousness. We didn't like nosey neighbors or hordes of homeless people. 

Locations We Liked

At the end of our travels, we created a list of possible areas we liked enough to consider semi-permanent relocation once the charm of SoCal wore off. That list included:

All of the areas had pros and cons, but all were areas we enjoyed and could imagine living there for a significant period of time.

Why Western Colorado?

Of all these areas, Western Colorado stood out. We spent significant time there, partly to run races (Grand Mesa 100 miler, Mt. Sneffels Marathon), and partly because Grand Junction is a gateway between the Western and Eastern US. It was a convenient stopping point when crossing the Rockies. Specifically, this is what we liked:

1. Mountains. We have a thing for mountains, and this area doesn't disappoint. The Grand Mesa and Rockies to the East, San Juans to the South. The Uncomphagre Plateau to the West. Not only do they provide picturesque views, they also offer ample recreation activities. 

2. Elevation. There's something magical about the clean, crisp, thin air and bright sky at elevation. We'll be living at about 6,000 feet, but we'll have plenty of opportunities to get above fourteen.
3. Rural Setting. Both Shelly and I spent most of our childhoods in small towns. After spending over five years surviving the frantic, overcrowded rat race that is Southern California, we're eager to get back to a more relaxed environment. 
4. Seclusion. We're all a bunch of introverts. All of us love people, but we all need solitude to recharge. We'll have far more opportunities to get away from people in Colorado where the population density is a tiny fraction of the population density here in San Diego. 
5. True Seasons; Snow. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I miss the changing seasons and snow. Currently, we have a temperate, "rainy" season (about 13" per year) that extends from about January to March, then a "blazing hot" season that lasts the rest of the year. In Western Colorado, the climate is somewhat similar to East County given it's high desert, but also fluctuates more. Instead of 100 degree October days, we'll have mid-fifties. We'll also have occasional sub-freezing temps and snow without the brutally-long, dreary West Michigan winters.  

6. Less Regulation and Taxation. California has the fourth-highest tax burden in the US. Colorado is in the bottom quarter. Similarly, California is one of the worst states for personal freedom. Colorado ranks as the tenth best. To make matters worse, California has a bad habit of pissing away their tax revenue on stupid, elaborate projects
7. Resilient Population; No Hipsters. I like living among people who can take care of themselves if the shit hits the fan. When a population doesn't have to struggle or have a government with excessive social welfare programs, they tend to be fairly helpless and don't develop self-reliance. The decidedly blue-collar, geographically-isolated population of Western Colorado is rugged and independent. And there are few if any hipsters like we found along the Front Range to the east. 

8. Diversity. There aren't too many rural areas of the country that feature decent diversity. Western Colorado certainly won't have the extreme diversity we have here in San Diego (our kids' school is about 30% Hispanic, 30% Arabic, 20% African American, 15% white, and 5% a smattering of other cultural groups), but the area does have a significant Hispanic population (about 25-30%.) 
9. Cheap Land, Significantly Lower Cost of Living. This was a biggie. We've long-wanted enough acreage to raise chickens and goats, have enough room to shoot guns or drive go-carts, build projects, and so on. We'd never be able to realistically afford this anywhere near San Diego (we'd have to buy land in the desert ninety miles east of San Diego). Not so in Western Colorado. It's not uncommon to find 40 acre plots for as little as $100,000. This is the biggest factor in the lower cost of living. If 100 is the US average cost of living, San Diego is 146 and Western Colorado is about 90. That's a HUGE difference. 
10. Better Business Climate. Shelly and I have several business ideas we've been developing over the last few years, but the cost/benefit analysis has never made sense. Why? California absolutely sucks for starting businesses. The taxes, regulation, and out-of-control bureaucracy are a huge burden to small business owners. Colorado only ranks as the middle of the pack, but it ranks better than Michigan where I've started several successful businesses. I can live with the moderate ranking. The business plans are one of the elements of moving that excites me the most; I miss entrepreneurship. 

11. Safety. Compared to our current home in East County east of San Diego, Western Colorado has far fewer murders, assaults, rapes, robberies, and car thefts. We want our kids to be able to walk around freely without excessive worry from junkies, unregistered sex offenders, transients, paranoid schizophrenics, and the other undesirable characters we have roaming around our current neighborhood. 

That sums up many of the major reasons we chose Western Colorado. It's not an area that would appeal to most, but many of our outdoor-loving, adventurous friends would likely fall in love with the area. 

We certainly did. 


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Getting Back into the Game: Landing a Teaching Gig in Colorado

Welp, it's official! I recently landed a high school social studies job in Colorado. Later this summer, we'll be packing up the fam and moving to the Western Slope.

As I mentioned in my last post, this has been a plan we've been working on since our cross-country drive to Michigan last summer. It's been a long path, but it's well worth the effort!

To land the job, I first had to get certified in Colorado. That step turned out to be easy; Colorado's Department of Education is infinitely more organized and efficient than the shit-show Ed. Department here in California. It took six months to get my certificate in California. Colorado took three days

The next step was brushing up on all things education. This took time, but wasn't especially difficult. I've worked as a substitute teacher for the last four years in addition to working as a school security guard. During that time, I've been able to stay abreast of the latest trends. Amusingly, education really is cyclical. Today's "new" ideas are really just the same old stuff I studied in college dressed up with new terminology and technology.

Third, I had to research districts and apply to open positions. Websites like and were useful, but I found individual districts' websites to be the most accurate and up-to-date. We knew where we wanted to live, so this part was simple. Find postings -> apply. I believe I ended up applying for about twelve positions in five districts. Then I waited.

I got the first call for a mid-sized high school job in a small, rural town (pop. ~ 20,000.) It came a little earlier than expected, so I wasn't prepared to make the trip from San Diego to Colorado. It's a 900 mile drive and a prohibitively expensive flight. Luckily they allowed me to interview via Skype.

The Interview

My process for interviewing involves a hell of a lot of research and preparation. This would be my first Skype interview, so I had to practice that aspect, too. Over the course of about a week, I researched far and wide to learn as much as I could about the school, demographics, major issues, the school board, the town, the area, and the people who would likely be interviewing me. The more I researched, the more excited I became. The school appeared to be a far better fit than I had expected. I took elaborate notes and memorized as much as I could.

Since appearance matters, I set up a miniature studio in our bedroom. I used an HD webcam, quality microphone, three-point lighting setup, and professional photography backdrop. To assure I was always looking into the camera, I set up our 40" flat screen directly behind the camera so I could see the interviewers while appearing to maintain eye contact. Finally, I summarized my notes on index cards and taped them around the TV screen.

When the time came, I shook off mild nervousness with a V-pose and performed well. I'm generally an excellent interviewer, and this one was one of my best. The interview further confirmed that the school would be a great fit. I started getting really excited about the possibilities, especially when I found out the position included not only world geography classes, but also a psychology class. While I love teaching social studies, I'm passionate about teaching psych.

About two weeks later, I received a call from the school's assistant principal; they wanted to meet me in person. The timing was perfect because we were currently on spring break and Shelly was on vacation. So we planned an impromptu drive to Colorado!

The Second Interview

We packed up the car and made the fourteen hour drive to Colorado. We're pretty well-versed in long road trips given our frequent travel, and this is a decidedly pleasant trip. Well, pleasant once we get past the Los Angeles/ Riverside metro area. Lots of desert, canyons, and mountain passes. Aside from one of the children getting sick en route, the drive was long but pleasant. We arrived in the town around eight o'clock, checked in to our hotel, then hit the grocery store for food.

The kids were mildly-but-pleasantly shocked the store wasn't crowded. It's a sharp contrast to our current hone; every store in the San Diego metro area is a damn zoo all day every day. Until that point, I had a little apprehension over the culture shock between the urban sprawl and rural farming community would trigger objections. But they loved it. Epic mountain views, wide-open spaces, very little traffic, and plenty of silence. 

The next morning, I reviewed all my notes, suited up, and met the administrators and two potential colleagues. We met at a coffee shop across the road from the school. I was obviously out of place given I was wearing a suit, which was amusing. 

I was anticipating a formal interview. Instead, we just made small talk, then they took me on a tour of the school. As we discussed various issues related to the school and community in general and the position in particular, I began getting the feeling this wasn't an interview so much as an introduction.

That feeling was confirmed when the Assistant Principal offered me the job towards the end of the session. Given that I hadn't expected to be offered the job, I still had to discuss it with Shelly and the kids. I broke the news, then we talked it over while driving around looking at houses on the market. It didn't take long to reach a unanimous decision - we're movin' to Colorado!

In coming posts, I'll detail the rationale for choosing Colorado and document the process of prepping for the move. Getting rid of excess crap, packing,  renting a moving truck, making the drive, finding a place to live, preparing my curriculum... good times!

It's been quite some time since we've done something exciting and slightly terrifying. Needless to say, we're pumped!


Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Return to Teaching: Life Comes Full-Circle

A little under seven years ago, Shelly and I decided to quit our full-time teaching jobs in Michigan to travel the country in an RV with our three kids and niece Stephanie. Yeah, we're masochists. As I discussed in this post on my BRU blog, we left for a variety of reasons. First, we were simply burned out. Teaching is not easy, and we both got too caught up in negativity. The financial climate for education in Michigan at the time was decidedly bad and we had the opportunity to travel the country doing what we love. Second, we wanted to spend more time together with our kids and as a couple. Paid travel? Who wouldn't take that opportunity? 

After traveling 50,000 miles back and forth across our beautiful country, we eventually we settled outside San Diego. What started as a temporary stop to wait out winter turned into a five-plus year adventure... thanks mostly to Shelly and I falling in love with our coaches and training partners at our Brazilian jiu jitsu/ mixed martial arts gym.

I was busy trying to make a living as a writer while also exploring a variety of alternative career paths. I dabbled in package delivery and truck-loading for UPS, working as a materials receiver for a lumber yard, working in real estate lead-generation, and even drove for Uber for a spell. It all kinda sucked; none of the jobs captured my interest quite like teaching. I also worked as a substitute teacher for a local high school district. That experience kept my teaching skills sharp and allowed me to stay current with trends in education, but the intermittent nature of the work didn't inspire me to go back to teaching full-time.

All of that changed when we took a road trip back to Michigan this last summer. That trip rekindled a lot of our future plans we put on hold when we started traveling. All of us, the kids included, have been growing tired of the SoCal life (extremely high costs, ridiculous population density, heavy traffic, lack of real seasons, no parking, lack of a real yard, etc.) So we made a decision to move to Western Colorado, which was one of about seven locations for permanent settlement we scouted when traveling.

In preparation for the move, I got two jobs working school security. The jobs were to provide a regular source of income to pay off debt AND give me experience in school security for a business Shelly and I have been planning. The first job is working evenings at an adult education campus; the second job is working mornings at a middle school. Both jobs involve A LOT of interaction with all school personnel, especially the administrators. I also get to work work closely with the custodians, administrative assistants, counselors, food service, grounds and maintenance, IT, and, of course, teachers. Finally, I have the opportunity to work directly with students in a mentor-tutoring capacity, which is an extra-duty task I volunteered to do given my teaching background.

These experiences turned out to be the magical formula that rekindled my passion to get back into the classroom. It's taken quite some time to process exactly why that passion returned. Here's what I have so far:

  • I miss making a difference. This is the biggie. Teaching gives you the opportunity to get to know individual students pretty well, which also gives you the opportunity to make a significant, positive difference in their lives. My "specialty" has always been finding out what motivates kids, then teaching them how to apply that motivation to academia. 
  • I miss the dynamics of the classroom. Interacting with teens is endlessly amusing. They're intellectually-mature enough to have in-depth conversations and understand complex ideas, but haven't experienced enough real life to be overly cynical. That makes the teaching and learning process a ton of fun. 
  • I have a far different perspective on the nature of education. When I started teaching, I had a Michelle Pfeiffer/ Dangerous Minds perspective on teaching. I was filled with piss and vinegar and I was going to change the world, damn it! I was hyper-focused on the welfare of the students in my classroom without consideration for the bigger picture. I didn't understand a lot of the decisions that were made at the building or district level because I didn't really understand how all the parts of a district function as a unit. 
  • I've had a ton of great life experiences inside and outside the classroom. Since leaving full-time teaching, I've traveled to forty-seven states, four countries, run a bunch of ultramarathons in fascinating, beautiful locations, worked with a major outdoor company, wrote five books and about 1.2 million words worth of blog posts, experienced abject poverty, earned a purple belt in jiu jitsu and did a little teaching, had a pro mma fight (against an injured opponent, so it only kinda counts), have subbed in about fifteen different schools with wildly different school cultures, worked with varied ages and demographics, and totally different communities. Some were rural, some suburban, some urban. I've had the opportunity to work with students from decidedly different backgrounds, including a lot of first and second generation immigrants. I've had the opportunity to work with administrators with different leadership styles. All of these experiences have dramatically increased my relatability to students, which is really the key to being a successful teacher. 
  • I can be a much better teacher. Early in my career, I had a ton of enthusiasm but no experience. As I got more experience, the enthusiasm waned. Now, I have the collected experiences of twenty years in the education world, years of extended travel, AND the passion and enthusiasm of a new teacher. I am intimately familiar with the trials and tribulations of teaching, have accepted the negatives, and can still approach the career with enthusiasm. 
  • The pay, benefits, and schedule are nice. As much as I enjoy school security, the pay and benefits are pretty terrible compared to teacher pay and benefits. We're not materialistic, but buying land and a house is one of our reasons for moving. Teaching will allow us to achieve that goal sooner. The schedule will allow us ample time to do other things that interest us, like doing more travel during the summer. 

The Tentative Plan

Since making this decision, I've been busy preparing. First, I need to get certified in Colorado which involves digging up a slew of documents like transcripts, certificates, ID, etc. Thankfully their department of education seems far less chaotic than the California counterpart. 

Next, I've started setting up job alerts on all the websites that list Colorado teaching jobs, like k12jobspot, schoolspring, and teachaway, along with all the more well-known sites like LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, etc. If a job opens up, I'll know about it.

Finally, I've been preparing to reenter the profession by brushing up on theory, terminology, pedagogy, new, relevant laws and regulations, and of course, classroom management. Luckily the substitute teaching and school security experiences have given me ample opportunities to stay up to date and regularly practice the skills we use as teachers. I've been preparing my resume and gathering my letters of recommendation. I've been researching possible districts who may be hiring for the coming school year. When the spring hiring season begins later this year, I'll be ready. 


I haven't been a full-time teacher since June of 2011, but am excitedly preparing to reenter the career. When I started teaching way back in '99, I was convinced I was going to change the world. Schools were failing and I was the person who was going to make the difference!

Like most teachers, the reality of teaching effectively killed that optimism. 

However, my experiences since that day I left my classroom for the last time back in '11 have really given me a broader perspective. I'm going into this return to teaching with that same passion and enthusiasm I did back in '99, only this time I understand the realities of public education. 

I'll likely post more on this topic in the near future. Stay tuned!


Adventures in Teaching: Act Two

The decision to get back into teaching has been a very long, convoluted process. When I left back in 2011, I was essentially burned out....