How do you measure a year? In the now cult classic musical Rent, they measure a year in song and it's a song I start singing as the days in the current year slip away hour by hour. There's plenty of ways to measure a year, but I'm going to focus on the big things that happened this year and what they taught me - and how I'm going to take those things into 2019.
But first, it's important to look back at last year's reflection. In it, I looked at words and what I would be learning from them. The words I was working with were - Learner, Growth, Grit, and Refine. Looking at where I was in December of 2016 - it's not unusual I chose those words. I was heading into student teaching at my former middle school and the biggest test of whether or not I was destined to be a teacher was nearly upon me. I can now say that those four words could almost be the title of the book I would write about my student teaching experience. I learned so much in that time, I grew so much in that time, and I refined my teacher persona in significant ways. And yes, it took so much grit to survive each day and come back again. There were moments where I had fleeting flight instincts, but I held my feet from running. And I'm glad I stayed.
Becoming a graduate
In January 2014, I took the bold step of returning to college to get the bachelors degree that could have been and by the next semester I was a full time student dedicated to becoming a middle school teacher (after briefly flirting with elementary education) and it was graduate or bust. It took a lot of hard work to get there. Through that hard work I met great professors who became great mentors. In the midst of the heady stressed pressure filled assignments and projects I became friends with some of the greatest people I've ever known. Four years later in 2018, I was able to walk across the stage, still pinching myself, and accept a degree that I had walked away from completing in 2001. I had grown so much in those intervening years, experienced such a unique life, and come to understand the world that lay before me - but I wasn't intending on stopping learning and growing. I had an entire career ahead of me to continue the construction on my head, heart, and soul.
I was a non-traditional student. I was initially afraid I wouldn't fit in, people wouldn't talk to me, and that I'd struggle to be a student again. Reality? It took fifteen minutes before I was back in the saddle, running the race of a college student towards that gleaming tower of graduation. With this, I'm taking the evangelism of college / trade schools into my classroom in 2019. I'm a believer in the Mike Rowe idea that not everyone needs to college but that everyone needs to do something to train into a career. Nobody is stupid, and nobody is dumb. Everyone can do something and be something. It's a conversation I've started to have with my 6th graders in 2018 and will be increasing the discussions as we get closer to them becoming 7th graders
Getting the Job
It's a crazy story to me. But it happened. Late March 2018. The last weekend of the month. The first real job fair in the Denver Metro. 500 people were going to be vying for jobs. When I arrived early, it was very much that number. And about 15 districts with 12 interview spots each. That's a drop in the bucket. I got in a line for a district that I knew and had done field experience in - only to be belatedly told 15 minutes later they were not doing interviews. By the time I got out of the line and looked around, it was too late to try and get in the other lines. My friends had 5 or 6 interviews lined up. I had none.
I was looking around talking with those very lucky friends when I spotted a gentleman with a clipboard walking around and I pointed him out to my group, stating districts were walking around looking for people and yes, he was looking for English Language Arts teachers. Would I like an interview? Insert your idiom here about how much I would like to have that interview, thankyouverymuch. It was later in the day, so I did my prep work. I scanned the website of the school and the district. I even applied for the job sitting outside the interview room.
One of the interviewers sat down and told me her interviewee hadn't shown up and could she answer any questions for me? We started talking and twenty minutes later she stood and said she would be right back. She returned with a intent to hire letter. I responded, "Holy crap!". Little did I know (she revealed this after she'd interviewed me) that this was the assistant superintendent. Within days I returned the letter. Within a month we had a house to rent. Within the next few months I met my principal, toured the school, and had a contract in hand.
How to take this into 2019 with my students? The job I got was in a rural city in Colorado - about an hour and change from Denver on the plains. It's a factory town and not a metropolis. It's not shiny in the sense of Denver, but it's a place to be and a community to engage with. My message in this would be - when something comes along that may not fit exactly what you want or isn't the glamorous job you desire - that may just be the point. Working in this community for the last few months has been rewarding on so many levels. I've met some great students who inspire me daily, make me smile and laugh daily, and challenge me to rethink what we see when the word 'rural' comes up on our radar. It's not the thriving metro area of Denver, but it's a place that's growing and living. Sometimes it's about how the job fits your needs and not your wants - and that is OK.
Moving On Up and Over
This job forced me to move 77 miles away from a city I had lived in since 1992 when my family moved to The Mile High City from Portland, Oregon. I hadn't left Denver, aside from an overseas job for a year and change, and had, until recently, never imagined leaving this great city that I had been calling home for over 26 years. But if we (my wife and I) wanted to have a chance at starting a life with kids and all that - we'd have to take a risk and leave. It's scary to leave a place that is comfortable, and that you've built a community in with church and more - it's downright terrifying. I don't want to minimize that - because those are real fears and they're not wrong. It helped that Denver's cost of living has become insane - and we wouldn't be able to stay above water if we stuck around. So we headed North East and started the work of becoming a part of a community of 12,000 or so people versus a metropolis of 3,000,000.
It wasn't easy. And it still isn't. People in small communities, especially communities with high turnover rates in the district, do not trust you entirely. They've seen your kind. They've seen people come through, get the year of working with a diverse population, and then go sell themselves and their newfound skills to districts in need of that very experience. Small communities are very name centered. And we are the first DeLays' in the land.
But nothing is free in this world and within any community you have to work at earning the trust and respect. You have to be willing to throw out any ego, any arrogance, or any preconceived notion you have - because more than likely it's mostly wrong. Listening, showing up, and being present in the kids world and their parents word is what will earn you something in this transaction.
It's important to note - this isn't a bad thing or any kind of slight on these kind of situations. Like they say, "Don't hate the player, hate the game". How will I take this into 2019? I will encourage my students that they will encounter situations and dynamics like this. That they will find people taht don't trust them and love them right away. That they will need to earn some of those things - relationships are complicated beasts. That sometimes the risk of upending your entire life and world is worth it in the long run, even if in the short run you question if you have any sanity left. That sometimes it takes time for things to become what we want them to be - that utopia isn't something we get out of a box on arrival, but that we work to craft, build, and use. And that takes time
Where Do I Begin?
2019 is just hours away as I write this post. Here's the thing - time is an illusion, if we're honest. Today is no different than tomorrow. The only creatures who count the days, years, and all that jazz are human beings. Nothing else on this earth keeps such a strict track of the movements of the Sun in the sky and how fast we're spinning around the bright glowing blob. We are the authors of this madness. The truth is that 2019 will be no different than 2018. It will have terrible events, tragic stories, and horrifying examples of man's inhumanity to man. To borrow a phrase - this has happened before...and it will happen again.
But, as Romeo would say,
"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Scene 2
We can't just take the nihilistic perspective and ride that dead horse into the sunset. We'll be miserable. So, we have to pump the brakes and take the exit on Hope Boulevard. Because we do have control over what happens in 2019. We have control of what we do. We control how we react to the news of the day, the outrage de jour, or whatever's flashing across our twitter/facebook/social media stream. We control the world within us and how we interact with the world around us.
First, disconnect from social media. My 2019 is going to be full of me deleting Facebook from my phone and limiting my use of twitter to certain times of the day - same with Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever other insane life and time suck applications that are on my phone. I need to take a stand and a stake in what my attention is paid to - and refocus it with extreme prejudice
Second - read more. I failed this year to read for pleasure and part of that was I buried in my first year teaching world. And mind you, I'm still buried but I can carve time to read. The first action on this list will help me get into books more.
Third - find the joy in life. I feel like we see all the awful things in the world - and there's no doubt that they are awful and that we should stand against them, fight the darkness, and take a stand. But we cannot fight in an unending fashion. We must find joy. We must find happiness. We must find reasons to smile, to laugh, and to enjoy the good and great moments - without it 2019 is going to be a very hard year.
We are not without our challenges...but we are not without hope, joy, and love. Here's to all three of those things in the next 365 days ahead.