I’ve been quite reflective lately as I prepare to turn in the keys to my classroom and begin the next chapter in life.
What began as a temporary gig to teach journalism courses for the remainder of a school year somehow morphed into 16 years. SIXTEEN years!
In January of 2003, I left my job as an associate producer for the top-rated morning news program in New Mexico. While working at the NBC affiliate in Albuquerque I saw a lot of “normal, everyday” bad news. This was also the time leading up to the invasion of Iraq. With the three Air Force bases located in New Mexico, families were already impacted—and we were covering it. The bad and the ugly overshadowing the good.
As a producer for a morning show, I saw A LOT of bad PLUS everything that happened once the sun went down. Add darkness, a full moon and constant monitoring of police scanners and it’s no wonder almost everyone in the newsroom chain smoked, cursed like sailors and heavily caffeinated.
I covered a lot of stories where either drugs, gangs, violence or death was the theme. Yes, there was the Balloon Fiesta, wildfires, and bear sightings. But so many of the truly tragic stories involved young people. I wondered if those kids’ stories would’ve been different had they had a stronger support system. So when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to do something about it instead of reporting on it. In full transparency, I also wanted to eventually be a parent who could be present for her own kids—something I saw my coworkers struggle with due to the demands of the job.
A journalism teaching position needed filled after the teacher abruptly left during the first semester. What they didn’t tell me—but I soon discovered—was that teacher who had abruptly left had been attacked by a student with a wooden shank that the student had made in the shop class. Something administration “forgot” to disclose to me until after I signed my contract.
The school had good, intelligent, talented kids (white, black, brown, legal and illegal). The problem was there was lack of opportunity for many of them. It was quite common to go into lockdown. It was quite common that students would get jumped (usually during lunch). It was quite common for young teens to be walked off campus in handcuffs. It was unfortunately the norm.
I was given funds to build as long as it focused on the improvement of reading and writing. I dug in, got my darkroom in working order and started out with pinhole cameras made from Pringles cans until my cameras arrived. My Spanish speaking students—the hardest working group of kids I’ve ever had—started a news program that we’d air right after Channel One News once a week—not because they couldn’t do a daily episode but because it took forever to render on the early non-linear editing system.
My goal was to “trick” the kids into learning. Cameras could help begin telling stories, darkroom work required focus and time (which would keep them out of trouble during lunch), producing a news program required knowing what was going on in the world by reading the newspapers and then discussing.
I enjoyed it, the challenge, the kids. So I stuck around an additional year, coaching volleyball as well.
Three states, four districts, six grade levels, four endorsements, a Master’s degree, a handful of honors, and thousands of young adults later, I sit here and can’t help but think that I’ve accomplished what I had originally set out to do:
- Expose students to life beyond what they know.
- Connect students to opportunities they might not find on their own.
- Develop students to better prepare them for their futures.
- Challenge thinking.
- Push them.
- Love them.
I swore I’d NEVER become a teacher. Now, although I’m leaving the classroom, I can’t see myself ever not working with OR for kids in some capacity. In developing them, mentoring them, challenging them, and exposing them to a world beyond their own comfort. They’ve grown on me. It’s grown on me.
My grandmother Bev was a hard-nosed New Englander. She was opinionated. She’d call out complacency and laziness and always expected better. She kept herself busy, but whatever took up her time was intentional. She worked for and voraciously supported causes she believed in. She wasn’t afraid of hurting feelings if it jumpstarted change for the better. If she wanted to do something, she wouldn’t waste time, she’d do it. She got shit done. She survived. I have a lot of Bev in me.
I’ve had a lot of students these last 16 years. Many of whom I’ve lost contact with—even with social media now. I have students who became a parent years before I’d become one. Students whose parents have had to bury them in their youth, students serving lifetime prison sentences, students who have vanished in the middle of the night. I think of these kids often.
I’ve also had students be the first in their family to go to and graduate from college, valiantly serve our country, get married and grow their own families, come out of the closet and be who they are, find their passion on the other side of the world, heal their hurts, fight for justice in their own backyard, develop successful businesses, run for Congress, and make a difference. I think of these kids often as well.
As I box up a ridiculously insane amount of personal items that I’ve added to my classroom over the years—The personal items students have gifted me. The handwritten poems and cards addressed to me—I can’t help but be grateful for all of the lives I’ve been exposed to. All of the lives I’ve encountered and the stories and experiences we’ve shared. And I can’t help but wonder if it was divine intervention that led me to this extended, part time gig. And how my original goals have actually also exposed ME to beyond what I know; connected ME to opportunities I might not have found on my own; developed ME to better prepare for my future; to challenge MY thinking; to push ME; to love; to survive; to grow; repeat.
I think my grandmother Bev would be proud of my decision to leave the classroom. I’m doing what I’d expect of AND encourage my students to do: Dream Big and Embrace Opportunities.
It’s something I want my two children to learn from me as well. After all, if I’m going to preach it, I better practice it.
And so, with as much Bev as I can channel, I begin the next chapter.