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. 



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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 k12jobspot.com and teacher-teacher.com 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!


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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. 

Conclusion


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!


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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? ...