Notes on my 12-year career as an educator.
. . .
Part 1: In The Classroom
Anyone who knows me—in real life, or via this blog—knows I’m a teacher.
I pretty much knew I wanted to teach high school English since I was about 17 or so. It was my favorite subject, and seemed like a natural fit for an aspiring writer like me. I also loved school: the fresh notebooks and gel pens; the family-like bond created within each classroom; the fresh starts; the chalkboard handwriting.
So off I went to college, declaring my Secondary English Education major, and beginning the truly transformational journey that is undergrad.
Dorm-room friendships. Buffet-style cafeteria meals. My Sony Discman. Study sessions. Computer mishaps. Movies. Discussions. Hair dye. Open-Mic Nights.
I really loved it all.
And four years later I accepted my diploma, literally danced a little jig on my way off the stage, and headed into Philly that night, to start my new life.
SnapDragon in The City, yo.
About halfway through undergrad I realized I wanted to teach in the city. I had learned about the inequities in funding, and the “emergency” certifications issued due to the lack of instructors. As a privileged kid from the suburbs—we had a planetarium in our high school—this angered me. Shouldn’t school be a safe, fully-functioning place?
So into the city I went, eager to help. I interviewed with the district before I even graduated from college, and was guaranteed placement in a high school for the 2009-2010 school year.
And what followed, Dear Reader, were six complete school years in the same building. Six school years which shaped me, possibly more so than any other experience of my life.
And it was hard.
22 years old. Every single student taller than me. Wanting to inspire. Wanting to reinvent the wheel. Bitter colleagues. Broken system. Zero follow-through. Entitled parents.
The foulest language you’ve ever heard. Stolen wallet. Angry stares. Administrative walk-throughs. Hopelessness.
But it was also incredible.
Hilarious stories. Smiling teenagers. Real talks. Creative writing.
The Book Closet. Twinkling lights. Dunkin’ Donuts. Talent Shows. Drama performances.
There’s so much that happened—too much that I could ever recount in a single blog post. But let it be known that I loved my kids—all of them—and when I chose to take a break in 2015, it was simply due to burnout. Any teacher who says they’ve never experienced it is either a goddamn robot or they’re lying to you.
And this was a hard time for me, Dear Reader. I walked away from my classroom for a chance at a university job—just a chance—and when I realized I was “no longer a teacher” (which really wasn’t true, I was just on break) it felt like a punch in the gut.
Who the heck was I now?
. . .
Part 2: Behind The Scenes
As it turns out, I landed the job.
I was a Regional Manager for a grant-funded program, one that worked to get underserved high school kids prepared for college and careers. I was the university partner, who oversaw two district teams who implemented various programs at the schools.
Sounds great, right?
It was a friggin’ mess.
It’s not worth getting into the weeds of it, trust me. It was a well-intentioned program, with some truly remarkable people and a few shining moments, but at the end of the day it was a gigantic stack of worthless paperwork that gave me a headache for like a year straight.
I’ll check my paperwork so you can check my paperwork, and then it’ll go into a Huge Important File that no one will ever look at.
But it’s important, because we’re helping kids.
(pats self on back)
Sign-in sheets. Databases. Conference calls. Business trips. Matching Dollars. Unallowable Expenses. A handful of actual interactions with students.
I survived two years of it, and perhaps by an act of grace was laid off, along with the two other Regional Managers.
And just like that, it was over.
So the remaining four years of my career—Jesus, can that be right?—was a déjà vu of sorts. My supervisor thought we should take the good parts of the grant program and make our own version. Would I be interested in applying?
A year and a half later, when the position was officially created, I interviewed. I wore a pinstriped blazer and put my best SnapDragon foot forward. I gave a pretty kick-ass presentation. I felt like my old teacher-self again. I got this, yo.
And I did. I got the job.
So I took all of my experience, both in Philly and in the suburbs, and put pen to paper.
This would be a program of quality over quantity. It would be free. It would be simple yet powerful, even if I was starting out as a team of one.
I’m a teacher. We make something out of nothing everyday.
And my Dear Reader, the stars seemed aligned against me during the two-plus years in this role.
Change in leadership. Then another change. Differing views as to what my job description really entailed. Maternity leave ten weeks earlier than expected. A fucking pandemic.
So I got my notice of another lay off.
O-kay. There goes that.
. . .
Part 3: Happy at Home
So there we have it: Twelve years (with a little unemployment thrown in there) in the life of an educator.
And I’m thankful for them, truly. All of them.
My behind-the-scenes work gave me autonomy. I slept in. I traveled to New Orleans, DC, and San Francisco. I ate Wawa breakfast burritos and listened to Paul Simon as I drove to meetings. I tried, in my SnapDragon way, to find meaning in a seemingly futile program.
And of course my days in the classroom. . . well, I still have dreams about them. I do.
I was the best version of myself then. When I think of my greatest professional moments, I think of my kids. I think of my colored chalk; I think of the conch shell. I remember when students would say, “You’re the only teacher I have who seems to care.”
And I did care, love.
And I’ve never stopped.
I tried and I failed and I tried again. I learned. I gained humility. I gained friends who were in my life for only a brief time, but who will be remembered forever.
So on this next leg of the journey—who knows, will it be another six years?—I’ll still identify as a teacher.
Toddler Snap is on the move, learning and exploring each day. I aim to help and guide him. I aim to teach him.
I will keep my creative-educator spirit alive, by writing. By making art. Reading. Talking and sharing. Researching and reflecting on the opportunities I’ve been given.
Because the learning never stops.
So neither will I, Dear Reader.
Neither will I.
. . .
SnapDragon is a writer, artist, and occasional light blue Gatorade-drinker.
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