When I first got my first teaching job in California in 1999, I was not really sure what I was getting myself into. I was 40 years old and a fresh teacher graduate from a good education college. I was a shy guy who did not really like talking in front of a group of people. However, I had a love of mathematics and wanted to spread my knowledge to listening ears. On the other hand, my high school experience was not ideal; I was unmotivated. I only put an effort into the things I liked. I was in band and I liked it. (I rarely practiced. I loved the sound and feeling of the music. I had only pursued this route because I would be able to go to every football game for free.) As a result, I was a pretty good math student, an okay social studies and science student, and a terrible English (Language Arts) student. I did just enough to get by and it resulted in a 2.3 GPA. Needless to say, I did little for my school and it did little for me. Now I was going ask from a lot from my students, despite never giving much to any of my teachers. Kinda ironic, ain’t it?
When I started this career, I was not really sure what was going to be different to keep my students from being just like me; unmotivated and uninterested. Although I only knew it unconsciously, it was obvious that I was going to do something very different from what I received. I was going to give them something that I rarely received; personal attention and care. How I was going to do this was not clear. The first thing I did was to preach that I “am not like them.” What I was trying to say was that was going to treat administrations the same way I did as a student; I would give them just enough of hat they wanted and I would do the rest my way. I would do whatever worked to keep me happy, administration happy and the kids happy but slightly uncomfortable.
However, that line between “me and them” was rather fuzzy and vague in the beginning. I knew that I didn’t want to be like them but I wasn’t really sure what “them” was. One reason it was unclear was that I was new to teaching. My experience was limited to my own experience, movies and what I saw while I was at the university. And, oh yeah, when I helped my dad get his GED when I was around 15 years old. The other reason was that my first two schools ran things pretty efficiently, thereby denying me a view of how bad education can be. (Yeah, I bitched and moaned about one petty principal at the beginning. But since it was so well-run at the time, the bad parts quickly were healed. Thank you, Mr. Frye; you were awesome!)
After a few years of this, I got tired of being poor all the time. I decided to back to California and work a good-paying union trade (not teaching). After five years at this, I really missed teenagers and teaching them and returned. I moved back to Georgia and experienced some of the worst school administrations I have ever seen. I would no longer be denied the opportunity to see bad education. I had not reached the worse it can be but I certainly got a glimpse of the lower half of education. In that time, I experienced 5 different principals in 5 years. One of those years, the school had no principal; it was run by a district supervisor. It seemed every time we met, we talked about something that raised my ire. I was often seen, outside of meetings, giving passionate speeches about how we should change things for the better. I almost always ended my speeches with, “But, then again, they never asked me.”
Today, I work for one of the best high schools I have seen, despite my occasional complaints. It is well-run, with great students and great supportive parents. Recently, we found out that are department head was retiring. The principal sent out an email to math teachers, asking if they would like to take the vacant math reins. My first reaction was “hell no!” and “I don’t want to become one of them!” As I thought about it deeper, I realized that I am not one of them and I never will be. Also, I realized that this is the perfect opportunity to change things in the right way. It is a way to preach about changing things and actually get the changes done. After a week, I threw my hat into the ring. I am given the opportunity to end my speeches with, “Hey! Wait a minute! They did ask me!” And, hopefully, they are listening!