I’m turning over the keys to you. Make the classroom yours, own it.
I wouldn’t even have believed myself a week ago if I had told myself that I would currently be in the situation that I’m currently in (did that make any sense)? It’s been a very strange week, and currently halfway through, I’m barely staying awake past 10:00 PM. For the past couple days I’ve been trying to thinking of the best way to explain what’s been going on, without of course going into too much detail, that’s brought us to this unique situation.
Perhaps it’s just the fact that God has a sense of humor, and sometimes He’ll slap you in the face with it in order for you to understand it. I’ve never been a teacher, I went to college to be a teacher, teaching is the highest (near perfect score) trait on any and every spiritual gifts test I’ve ever taken, and my family…for generations…have been (and still are) teachers. It is almost as if some people in life truly are destined for one thing or another, and in the end all the straws I pulled led me into the classroom.
Halfway through 2011 I was burned out on the hopes of teaching. I had placed 92 applications throughout the state of Missouri and Kansas, I had zero connections, and I had zero experience. Even with multiple degrees no one wanted to deal with me. I learned through that process that in order for someone to get to know you, you should be a substitute teacher. Also, when you’re a substitute teacher, you should absolutely kill it in the classroom. Help the students, interact, show some knowledge, remember names, and by all means…smile. Why? They remember and they tell their friends, and most importantly they tell their instructor. Meaning, you’re more likely to be called back a second, third, and fourth time.
This thought process landed me my first official contract in far southern Missouri. However, even after signing, due to the trauma of the divorce, I opted out of my contract and left the area. I regret it because it’s painful knowing that I left something that I thoroughly enjoy. Students are wound for sound, they’re hyper, they’re thinkers, and they are the future…why wouldn’t you want to mess with that?
Flash forward to this exact time last year (2013). I had been working non-stop within a large district in the city south of us. Primarily there was one school, a middle school full of some very rough kids, that just tugged and broke my heart. They had incredible teachers, sad backstories, and even though the stress was overwhelming…being in there showed me the beauty of education. I even told Darco at the time that if I ever went back into teaching, that’s the kind of place that I’d consider my dream job. During that time there had been a glimmer of something within that building manifesting that could have lead to a potential full time position. In the grade I wanted, the subject I wanted, and the kids that I wanted. That dream was cut short though when I agreed to leave teaching in order to hang around in cyberspace, and get paid to operate Twitter (a dream job in itself). With that new job I slowly and unwillingly started to forget the names of the kids in the classes, I started to forget those specific teachers, and I started to forget the joy of being in those rooms. Again, for the second time in my life I had, had the ‘taste’ of what it was like…and per usual I found a way to run away from it. Teaching scares me. It scares me because it’s something that I can be held accountable for. I went to college to become a teacher, I have the knowledge in the area of education, I know how to teach, and that kind of pressure absolutely terrifies me.
When the social media job went its own way two months ago, Darco and I decided right from the beginning that I’d get back into substitute teaching. I was ‘deactivated’, but wasn’t removed from the company that handled the substitute operations. A few phone calls, some paperwork, and I was back in action last month. Even though I bounced between schools I had secretly hoped that I would be able to get back into that school that I had left behind me a year prior. Through an act of God, a substitute teacher cancelled the night before they were due up at that middle school, a new substitute grabbed it, but then released it at 3:30 AM the morning that the position was needing to be filled. At 5:30 AM, mainly asleep, I saw the job, remembered the teacher, and took it as fast as I could.
That. Started. Everything.
I was back in my element, back in my adopted school, and back around incredible teachers. They didn’t hate me for leaving the year prior, they were happy because they thought a school had finally picked me up for full time (HAHA!). Through the past several weeks I’ve been back in that school, and more and more teachers within a specific grade started to request me for their days that they knew they would be absent. However, while the weeks began to fill with requests I started to notice a strange pattern forming this previous Monday. I had stepped in on Monday, ran through the class, went to turn in the paperwork for the day and heard, “Would you be available for tomorrow as well?” Tuesday passed again, and through an administrator I was inquired upon again, “What about tomorrow? Can you put you down?” This was after I had informed them that I went ahead and had created lesson plans for the remainder of the week if I was no longer needed, or even if I was needed. I was assured that, that was a first for any substitute to do within this school. Eventually I heard, “Can we get you for the rest of the week?”, and finally it was capped off with…
So, looks like we have you all of this week. Also, would you be available for all of next week? Yes? Great. Even though the kids will be out on Monday, please come in for professional development. This way we can get you caught up, and plans can be made.
Understand that they only needed me for the next four days past next Monday. Knowing that, does this previous quote seem…different?
When I stepped into the school on Wednesday I was nearly immediately escorted into the principal’s office (by way of an awkward side-hug by the assistant principal…sabotage I claim). It was finally at that point that I met the new principal inside the building, different from the one I knew in the previous year, he introduced himself and quietly stepped back to his desk. He opened a drawer and pulled out a small plastic bag and tossed it to me with the following explanation.
This is for you, you’ve earned it. I just want you to know that we view you as part of the team here. You’re not just a sub, you’re a part of us and we’re grateful for what you’re doing.
In my hand was a small bag, and its contents were slightly shocking. While some may see it as trivial, anyone who has ever been involved in education knows the importance of it. In my hand was a smooth, brand new lanyard that read the name of the school across it. I had the official lanyard! The same one that all the teachers had, the same one I saw administration walking around with, and the same one that I had secretly hoped that I could one day have. There it was, in my hand, with the blessing of the principal himself. Frankly, I was nearly in tears when I muttered, “This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever been given.” I immediately placed it around me neck and as calmly as possible descended down the stairs into the classroom. While walking to the room I stopped at a few classrooms and showed up the lanyard, the smiles weren’t just found on my own face, but upon the faces of these kind souls as well.
Several of them, almost hinting at prophetic undertones, would talk to me after classes were out and would utter just a few words:
Just kill it.
Do you know what it’s like to have people cheer for you? To know that people are doing everything they can to ensure that you’re a part of their team. I found out that instructors were sending emails and contacting administration specifically on finding ways to keep me going inside their school. It’s a surreal feeling knowing that these complete strangers, people who have no idea about my life, no idea about this website, nothing, would be willing to work their own ways to attempt to ensure a new adventure was found for myself. Also, it turned out they weren’t the only ones. The students were greeting me in the halls, the seventh grade (kids from sixth grade last year) are still coming down to the hallway to say hi, and I’m official due to drawings that students have given me of myself, and letters they’ve written about their appreciation of my knowledge of anime and…hehe…science. I’m waking up in a random dream that isn’t making sense, but I can’t keep from running towards it.
Thursday is a shortened day within the district due to meetings that take place for teachers in the afternoon. Kids leave…instructors don’t. While the instructors were in their meetings I was rearranging desks, cleaning up the room, and setting things up for Friday.
That’s when, all alone, the principal stepped into the room, and I was greeted with a phrase I hadn’t heard in three and a half very long years.
Tell me again, what kind of certification do you have?
My own history tells me that this specific question is a vital question to ensure any hope or dreams in any educators soul. In 2011, also while substitute teaching, I had a principal ask me that question. A few days later I wound up in her office during my planning period being interviewed. Two days later I was offered a contract to teach. The reason this website originally was started was the exact same reason I was never able to fulfill that contract (still heartbreaking).
When I heard that question asked yesterday, my heart nearly exploded, and I just about passed out. I gave the honest answer (including telling the story of an expire license), and the principal continued his conversation with me…
Have you ever thought about coming back into teaching? We’d love to have you, I’d love to have you on the team. Just get your stuff sorted out with DESE, and know that hiring season is coming up (*these are all subtle hints that require one to read between the lines*). I don’t know what’s going on with the current situation, but we’ll just see how it plays out. It’s evident that you have a natural desire and passion to be in the classroom, there isn’t a soul in this building that doesn’t know that and your peers speak extremely high of you.
Phrases like that don’t come across my ears that often. I was melting, dying, and crying inside. I had told Darco a year ago, when I made it clear I had zero desire to go back into the classroom, that if I was ever interested in it…it’d have to be directly involved with this specific school. I didn’t realize how real that thought would be a year later.
There’s a lot more details that I can’t go into at the moment, and many more that I forgot. It’s been an insanely busy week. Darco is nearly losing her mind every night when I get home, “Have you heard anything else?!?!” is what I’m frequently greeted with. MC is calling me throughout the week to get updates, and Darco has even gone far enough to see when the date is for the next certification class is (while my license needs renewal, the truth is I need certification for this specific subject/age group as well) in the area. Everything feels so strange, unique, and awkwardly perfect. I have a backpack full of papers to grade over the weekend, and I’m already excited that I get to wear jeans to school on Monday. I really don’t know what, if anything, is going to be available after Friday of next week, but I do know that I haven’t tried this hard to impress someone in quite a long time.
I walked into one of the classrooms today, speaking with one of the teachers (very close to my age), and they asked me, “Are you excited? I’m so pumped that you’re going to be here.” I answered as honestly as I humanly could, “I am, but I’m scared out of my mind. I’ve never actually taught in my entire life. I don’t want everyone to overhype me, I’m just another guy roaming the halls of a school.”
Their simple response was, “You’re killing it right now, and when anything becomes official, we’re going into your room and deep cleaning the entire place. We’re going to put up soccer posters, and scientists posters, and it’s going to be a kicking room!”
How can you deny that kind of crazy optimism. It’s strange, I’m kind of in a weird state of limbo, but even if it is only for a short while…what an exciting time this has been. I love the kids, the instructors are amazing, and I can say that if I became a teacher this location would be a dream job. The insanity, oddities, and complex concepts are so, so entertaining…and that’s just from the instructors, the kids are pretty great too.
In the end it just cycles back to the quote at the beginning of this monologue. The principal looking at me, a slight gleam in his eye, and soundly saying, “I’m turning the keys over to you. Own it.”
I’m trying my best, praying my hardest, and hoping with about every thread in my body. Surely this isn’t just some random dream, and if it is…I hope I never wake up.