My favorite thing about NCTE and ALAN is running into colleagues who have become friends from all over the country who push my thinking.
Or in this case, to push (urge? encourage?) me to write more.
See, I ran into Kevin English at a gathering where they were talking about the importance of blogging, of getting your story as a teacher out there, to take back the narrative. We were, presumably, invited because we were already doing that.
Yeah, I guess I have done that from time to time.
But if you look back at the posts here – and even my tweets, I’ve been rather inconsistent.
It doesn’t mean I’m not writing or reflecting on my practice. It doesn’t even mean that I’m not posting about what’s happening in my teacher life online…I think I have just continued to post to Facebook and kind of dropped off posting anywhere else.
I apologize for my laziness.
Kevin has been posting a bit (a lot) more regularly than I have, but I blame his youthful enthusiasm for that. Even still, I know that he has a whole lot more to say that should be shared than he’s posting, too.
So we decided to put together a bit of a system to encourage each other to write a bit more. We’ll take turns coming up with topics to consider for the week – something teacher-related – each Sunday and we’ll post our responses to that no later than the following Sunday. So we’ll each be writing at least one post a week.
For me, that is a whole lot more than I have been writing.
So what did he decide we’d write about this week?
Where we started.
No, not all this big long explanation above about this little friendly dare to keep writing.
About our first teaching gig.
Oh my. Talk about youthful enthusiasm.
I could answer this one of two ways: I could tell the story of how I decided to become a teacher* or I could write about my first full-time teaching job.
Since I wrote a really long post about the first option years ago, I’ll go with the second.
I taught at Williams Valley Junior/Senior High School for one year.
It was not one of the school districts I substituted for. I honestly had spent little time in Tower City or the surrounding area except to drive through on the way to visit my husband’s family and friends and co-workers in Schuylkill County. Since he’s usually the one driving, I was probably sleeping a lot of the times we drove through.
He knew that. And he urged me, after I had accepted the position, to go drive through the school district to see what the towns were like. The district is in the coal region – an area with its own long history. Coal mining is why the this area was built up in the first place, but it is no longer the business it once was. There are a lot of churches and a lot of bars and the houses look far more like they do in other coal mining towns than the small town I call home.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect – other than a half hour drive in each direction each day and that kids are kids and that my job would be to teach what the district told me I was teaching (10th grade English) and the rest would sort itself out as I went.
At the time, I was also juggling at least three full shifts at the hospital pharmacies where I worked. That meant every other weekend and at least one 4-12 shift during the week. The hospitals were about 45 – 60 minute drive away from school, so I’d rush out at the end of the day on days when I was scheduled to work. On the days I had off from the hospital, I would burn the midnight oil attempting to fine-tune my lessons for the week and grade papers. Since the building was open to us 24-7, I took advantage. I would stay late and come in super early.
I wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of teachers there who were young and stayed at school for long hours – some were coaches, some just were new and wanting to stay on top of their work. There was a connectedness I felt among the staff – we’d get together on Fridays after school. We would form teams for volleyball competition fundraisers – and practice for hours after school to prepare. The more experienced teachers were able to share at lunch and during prep periods about the good old days – what they had learned, how things had changed (for good or for bad). It felt good to hear that they had struggled, too. I felt like I could ask questions and get answers (usually in the form of incredible anecdotes that would involve multiple voices and lots of laughing or shaking heads). That faculty room gave me two things: a an amazing collection of stories and an enduring addiction to coffee.
I admit that the classes felt hazy to me in my memory. I remember having to teach vocabulary out of the same books I remember using when I was in school. I remember reading Julius Caesar with them. (Let me tell you, high school sophomores get betrayal…) I remember running after school English tutoring – where the kids who came were burning to read more and write more. There were animated conversations about interpreting song lyrics and how to craft a stronger argument. There were long conversations with students about their lives and I learned so much from them. It’s the people I recall, but the lessons? Not so much.
But I remember having one class twice a day because they were at vo-tech for part of the year. One student stands out in particular because he was just off-beat. He sat in strange positions constantly. I figured that he was participating and interacting and doing what he was assigned – and he wasn’t disrupting his classmates, so I let it go. I think I realized even then that there were battles not worth fighting – because what was really important was his learning and the learning of his classmates, not where or how he was sitting.
(I wish I could say that I was that wise about all things classroom management related that year. But, in my defense, despite being 29 the year I taught there, it was my first full-time teaching position. The long-term substitute position the year before in the district I now teach in went better – but that may have been, in part, because of the support I got from administration while I was there.)
What brought me there was a job posting. There were only a few of them in the area that summer. I had applied for everything in the hopes of getting full-time teaching employment. My long-term substitute position the year before sealed that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I liked teenagers in all their snarky wit and angst and curiosity about the world. I loved reading with them and writing with them and helping them figure out more about themselves and the world around them. This was a life that would never be boring and I knew that I could do something that mattered. But back then, there were lots of English teachers in Pennsylvania flooding the market. Back then, teachers were one of Pennsylvania’s greatest exports. Getting a full-time job as a teacher often took years of substitute teaching to prove your worth before there were even positions open. I’ll be honest: I was grateful to get called for interviews with two districts. Williams Valley offered me the job on the afternoon I got the call for an interview with another district.
I didn’t even ask what the starting salary would be for me because I was just so excited to hear I got the job.
In the spring, we were surprised to find out that, after years of trying to conceive, we were finally going to be parents. My memories of the rest of the school year after that point is so tied to my memories of my complicated pregnancy of our only child: a seventh grader pushing the trash can closer to me in first period study hall because, “You look pretty green again, Mrs. Minnich.” I remember coming back after being out sick for a full day because I was in the ER after not being able to stop throwing up and becoming severely dehydrated. It was at the end of the school year, after their finals, and I was being observed on the fly by the superintendent. I remember thinking on that day that I needed to rethink my place of employment.
I did leave after that year. I had a thousand reasons for leaving to go to my current position – shorter commute, higher salary, better healthcare, a staff and administration I already knew – but not one of them had anything to do with the kids or my fellow teachers. I had a baby on the way to think about. I knew my life would be changing in ways that I couldn’t even imagine yet.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Kevin writes on this topic – especially since he chose it.
If you’re interested in writing along with us, feel free to share the link below. Kevin asked me to think about my first teaching gig – what brought me there, what kept me there.
What I think we should write about next week, Kevin, is this: Life Changing Events.
I’m leaving that open-ended. I was thinking about how my teaching life was affected by the birth of my son. Or moving from one house to another. Or my health. Or my parents’ health. But I could also write about those kinds of events that happen at school to my fellow teachers or my students – or those kinds of events that happen in the life of a school. This could go in a zillion different ways and I’m not entirely sure what I’ll write yet.
*I substitute taught with an emergency certification before I ever had the idea to go back to school to become a teacher. What a lucky day it was when we saw the ad for that job in the paper…