March 24, 2008

Spring Fever?

It happens this time every year. No, I’m not talking about the exhausted crash and burn landing into spring break. I am talking about contract renewal time. That time of the year when teachers have to decide, “Do I really want to come back and do this again next year?” It’s easy to sign early in the years, especially before tenure kicks in. But as time goes on, and one year starts to blend into the next year, the signing of the contract becomes a symbolic milestone when I sit down and seriously reflect on what exactly it is that I am doing in education as a teacher? Am I still an effective educator? And is this really the place I want to be 12 months from today?

It usually starts for me much earlier then the moment I actually have to sign or waive my contract renewal. Generally by the start of second semester I have begun the process of actively looking around for a new job. Some years its in teaching, some years in other professions. I suppose it’s a healthy thing; questioning my purpose in the classroom and desire to continue. After 12 years in my current position at my current campus, you’d think I get it into my head that this is where I belong. But I can’t avoid the process, and in many ways I think going through the job hunt and interview procedure helps me to refocus my efforts back into my own classroom. Kinda like testing the waters and deciding its better to stay on the island.

Last year I found my “dream job.” One of my all-time favorite places in the world is the central coast of California. If you’ve never been, go soon. The people are friendly, the scenery is breathtaking, and the weather is amazing. My grandmother spent her last years in the area and I spent as many weekends as I could afford visiting with her and soaking up the environment. In January of last year I found a job post for a Drama teacher at one of the local central coast high schools. I started my career as a Drama teacher and I’ve never lost the desire to teach Drama full-time. So I applied. I got a call for an interview and with great excitement and anticipation I refreshed my resume and got all gussied up to go. I was sure that the job was mine before I even sat down with the Principal and interview panel. Although I felt very confident and shared by authentic enthusiasm for the position, I was turned down. I was disappointed to say the least. My dream of moving my family to paradise was gone. But after I got over the rejection I took a deep breath and refocused my efforts back into the job I was actually getting paid for at the moment. When contract renewal time came, I gladly signed my contract for another year.

And what a year it was! In the months that followed I got word that funding had finally been secured for my classroom to received a completely new set of computers. I had been working with machines that were at that time in their 7th year, and in desperate need of being replaced. New machines meant new software which meant new curriculum that I had to write. So my summer last year was filled with hours of research and writing to prepare for this school year. Things with the new machines didn’t start off so well. While the district was willing to provide funding for stuff, they were unable to find funding for technical support. So I was left on my own with the one-day-a-month support of an engineer from Apple. Thankfully, we worked out all the issues by the end of the first semester and now things are working great.

Then the fever hit again. This time it was a job in my second favorite state, New Mexico. I have a long family history in the area, although no immediate family history there. I’ve always want to live and work where my ancestors made their start in the United States. I was randomly looking around for job posts when I found one that fit me like a glove. An almost exact match to my current position. I went ahead and applied without a second thought. Again I got a call to interview, but this time I paused. (You could say I blinked.) I paused because I knew that if I was in fact the chosen candidate for this position at this new school far away from where I currently work and live I would not be able to follow through and take the job. I knew that deep down in my heart I was just pretending, and that the place that I really belong as a teacher and an educators is exactly where I am now. In other words, the fever broke. Before I left for spring break I signed my contract for one more year.

I suppose the saying, “The grass is always greener,” is true. As a young teacher I looked at the seasoned guard as being somehow weaker or less innovative or less successful if they were in the same assignment or in the same classroom for a long period of time or even a career. My very first year as a high school teacher my classroom neighbor was a gentleman who had been teaching the same subject in the same classroom for the past 30 years. “That will never be me!” I told myself. However, I no longer see teachers like this as failures. Teaching is a very difficult job to endure. Sometimes it helps to look over the school yard fence and think about what it might be like to play on someone else’s grassy field. But for now, I know who I am and where I belong, and that’s where I plan to stay for awhile longer.

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