(This is the first of my five part series on what’s been the most thrilling, exhausting, and growth inducing year of my [admittedly short] career. Part micro-fiction, part reflection, and wholly navel gazing, this prologue will set the stage for the rest of my journey.)
The fifth year is kind of a benchmark in the teacher world—long enough to awaken you to the fact you’re walled in by insurmountable systemic and structural barriers, but not so long that your idealism has metastasized. Most of my corporate friends have already changed jobs (or careers) a few times— starting to lead teams, receive promotions, and expand their networks. Their careers began taking on a sense of verticality—their potential growing alongside their salary as they scaled the corporate mountain. I didn’t envy their climb, nor did I desire the same summits, but they had something I didn’t: a path.
Teaching is less like climbing a mountain and more like running on a track. Each year a new lap begins and we start a new race. We kick off Autumn’s blocks, sprint through Winter, slog through Spring and collapse in to Summer. Over time, we hone our craft and grow our skill set. We shave seconds off our time. We tighten our routines and refine our methodology. We incorporate new strategies and ideas in to our practice. To the untrained eye though, our growth is small. Worse still, our assessment is proctored by those who’ve abandoned the track (some after only a few quick laps) and, being subjected to the same systemic limitations, often feel compelled to focus more on tracking our times than granting advisement or affirmation. After all, they’re being evaluated on their ability to demonstrate how they’ve improved our metrics.
When you pour your heart in to every race, but lack a feedback loop of affirmation and/or advisement, it’s easy to lose heart. You start to feel less like a professional athlete and more like a mechanical hare at a grey hound race—still rounding the track, but either as a hollow automaton or with the baying hounds of disillusionment and exhaustion nipping at your heels. In June of 2018, I empathized with that hare.
The Every Day World
The sound of my beer bottle drawing smooth circles on our glass table sharply contrasted my jumbled thoughts. The June sun was doing its best to coax me to slide in to summer, but my leg bounced anxiously.
My girlfriend (now fiancé) repeated her question. She was patient—warm but firm.
“So, what would that look like?”
My leg stopped bouncing.
As I gazed in to the amber brown bottle (my
beer crystal ball of choice) countless conflicting thoughts bounced around my head. I knew I needed a sense of verticality, but I also knew I didn’t want to leave the classroom. I knew I was passionate about teaching, but I also knew it came with structural limitations. I knew I wanted to affect the educational world, but I wasn’t sure how.
In short, I didn’t know much of anything.
So, when my fiance asked me what my career might look like in the next five or ten years, I didn’t have a flowery blog post full of cumbersome extended metaphors. I didn’t quote Socrates. Or Maxine Greene. Or even provide her with some semblance of a plan.
I belched and said “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Life is usually only poetic in hindsight.
I wanted to share this prologue because, like in Campbell’s Monomyth (which I’ll be using as a frame for my series) my journey might be unique, but it’s not special. My goal isn’t to center myself as the hero, but to share a tiny thread in a much bigger, ongoing tapestry. There are teachers all over the world who feel the same way I do, and probably have more compelling things to say. All I can do is hope my yarn inspires other people to try and unravel their story too.
Next week, I’ll share the unexpected question that kicked off my “Call to Adventure.”