This is my fifth year of teaching.
This year a funny thing is happening. People are coming to me to ask me about being a teacher. What is it like? What advice do I have? What was my experience like on the path to education?
The first thing I think; the first thing I say; the first thing I know is:
Find your home school.
Believe me, friend, you cannot do this job in the wrong place for you.
Even more importantly, you DESERVE the right place.
Here’s the story of how I know:
Five years of teaching does not seem like a long time, but in teacher years, it’s enough for me to be a completely different instructor, colleague, employee, person than I was five years ago. I’ve been guided by incredible mentors. I’ve stood face to face with my own biases and assumptions. I’ve found truths, both hard and profound. If there’s anything real to be said about teaching, it’s that it requires the best of you, and that may be the hardest work in it.
I love teaching now, but I did my best to avoid it. My mom is a teacher and I saw it all. The struggles, the tears, the constant reflection and work brought home–and I saw the paychecks. That was hard NO from a 18-year-old finding a path in the world. Alas, you cannot fight who you are and I am a teacher.
Something that kept revealing itself to me as I:
- took aptitude tests.
My results looked something like this:
elementary teacher, high school teacher, music teacher, art teacher, drama teacher, dance teacher…
- changed my major three times.
(Recreational Therapy, Psychology, English)
ALL with the intention of someday working with CHILDREN
- worked in childcare centers to pay my rent.
I loved every minute. I used my personal time to research and get better at it.
It took longer than it should have, but somewhere around the age of 21 and my second year of college, I finally acknowledged that teaching was what motivated and inspired me. When I finally made that choice, I made it with everything in me, knowing it was right.
So fast-forward through an intense and enlightening education through the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where I graduated from the Early Childhood Education program, I was armed with all the knowledge, all the tools, all of the gusto required to love these children until they learned. I landed my first job in Milwaukee. It was an open position at a private, religious, charter school teaching Kindergarten. My husband and I celebrated and packed up our possessions. We put our little boy in his carseat, and headed to the city to start this new life.
This experience…is a whole other blog. When people asked that Fall, I used the word challenging.
No. My job now is challenging. This job was impossible. This job set me up to fail. This job left me isolated, anxious, with no resources, and no support. I cried daily. Everything was out of control and all the help I asked for, and all the research I did, and all the things I bought and all the things tried, were all dead ends.
Once, I accidentally took a photo of myself on my lunch break thinking the camera was turned at the math center I was trying to document. I needed to remember materials that I needed to buy the next day. I looked into my phone and saw someone I didn’t recognize. My eyes were red and puffy from crying on my twenty minute lunch break. I was jarred out of my math center thoughts and stared at it. I had never seen my own face that sad. I was so full of self-doubt, I was ready to change career paths. When we talk about burnout, I know what that is. I was there within a month.
The words of my mother as I cried to her on the phone stayed with me after we hung up.
“That is not teaching,” she insisted, “Find a place where you can teach. Then decide if you’re a teacher or not.”
So with that encouragement, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt and spent the holiday break filling out applications. I went to an interview with answers in my head, but so much fear in my heart. Maybe it wasn’t the place; it was me.
When my now-boss lady called me and said, “You’re my first choice,” I teared as I accepted and hoped that I really did have nothing to lose. I hoped I hadn’t just fooled her with textbook answers and that she saw a good teacher in that interview.
She did. And I am.
She met me at the doors on that first day, and as we walked, I saw a community. There were teachers smiling as they passed each other in the hallway, quipping back and forth with easy laughs. There were children holding hands with paraprofessionals, gazing at them with the trust and love of a child looking at family. There was art on the walls. There was music tingling as I walked through the building. There were students talking-instead of being talked at. These were all the signs of home to me.
The power of the right place cannot be overstated in this so-called job that they call teaching. If you’ve done it, you know. Jobs are over when the job is over. Teaching is part of you. You cannot do it alone.
I found the school that would teach me, support me, lift me up, and make me better. The school that would give me learning opportunities, professional freedom, and heart-bending challenges that I would never have to face by myself.
My people. My team. My home school.
Let me tell you about my home school. My home school is a place with the strangest days and the oddest occurrences. We have stories. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean every one of us individually, and also all of us, as a staff. They’re thrilling and surprising and horrifying and hilarious. We really, truly, do not know what will happen on any given day.
But here’s what we do know at my home school: We do know that we love and accept all students. We love and support all staff. We create a place of safety and support for whomever walks through that door, or more recently, hops on a video call. We’re a public school. We get everyone, and everyone matters. We meet them where they are at. We never ask more than they are able to give. We meet needs. We talk. When we don’t know how to reach them or how to help them, we create a team. We observe. We collect data. We create a system or a procedure. We build trust and relationships. We test it. We adjust. We repeat as needed.
We push limits together. We research best practice together. We change current practice together. We turn to each other when we need something. We inspire each other and keep the expectations high. When doubt creeps in, we build each other back up. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. We find and make all kinds of good trouble. We ask real questions about what’s best for students, families, this community, this world. We challenge what is happening now, in favor of what could be. We dream a big dream together. We inch towards it everyday.
But most importantly, none of us are doing that alone.
When I say find your home school, I mean find your people.
Because YOU deserve it. Your students deserve it.
…And because I wouldn’t be a teacher without mine.