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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