I just Tweeted this:
Should be in bed, but found a box of pictures from my first years of teaching. I’m such a sentimental fool, but I really miss those kids.
I taught a year in Alaska way back in 1994. My wife and I got married in March, we interviewed at a job fair in April at a job fair in Minneapolis, and moved to Unalakleet, Alaska. For those who don’t know where that is, in my father’s words: “It’s 400 miles from the nearest McDonalds.” There’s rural Iowa, and there’s rural Alaska and the two shall never be confused with each other. Every thing we had was mailed up and flow in on the mail plane, which came everyday, except on those really cold days where hydraulic fluid gummed up or those days where they couldn’t see the run way because of the snow storms. Plane, snow mobile, or boat were the ways in or out of this place. We were lucky, we had TWO grocery stores, running water, and a district airplane (yes, a district airplane!). If our district was overlaid on a state, the square mileage was about the size of Washington state.
However, I loved this job. I taught sixth grade humanities classes, high school world and US history along with being the assistant varsity girls basketball coach (to my wife’s head coach). My wife taught seventh grade right across the hallway along with English and journalism. It was hard, it was long hours, it was being called the Eskimo equivalent of the “n word” by the elders who didn’t want you there. But the kids…the kids were the most amazing students I’d ever had. They came from a poverty I still don’t truly understand, one where they killed, dried, and saved much of what they would eat during the winter months. They lived in shacks made of tin, plywood and little else. Some were abused, others had alcoholic parents, but the excitement, the joy for simply being at school was unparalleled. I miss these kids dearly. They were my first class and I love them for that. They were some of my hardest kids and I love them for that.
We just couldn’t stay though. School politics, native politics, and situations to this day I don’t know about made us decide that this just wasn’t our place. We moved to central Missouri, following my wife’s job of being an English teacher. I subbed for a year, and then found a fifth grade position teaching in New Franklin. Apparently I love small schools, because this was another small one. I worked with some awesome people, truly professionals who knew how to work hard and play hard too. And again, my students, I have three years worth of old pictures to look at, and the stories that come rushing back to me. Working with the bi-polar student and being compliment by my principal for the outstanding job that I did with him. Drinking tequila shots with my wife, the fourth grade teacher, and her husband, then playing a round of mini-golf. Happy hours where we’d laugh until we’d cry, and the people around us would come up and wonder, “where do you work because I want to work there too if you are having that much fun”. Our principal was ex-military, and if ever I clicked with an administrators, she was it. She worked us hard, yet knew when to ease up, when to buy the first round, and how to throw a party. I consider her one of my best friends to this day, and spent some time with her last Christmas. It was like we’d only been gone for hours.
I count these early years as some of the best of my life.
And where I’m at now, I work with world-class teachers. People who carry so much about their students it hurts inside to see them. My students, my kids (I tell them they are my kids whether they like it or not), I love them dearly. I see I’ve changed as I reflect on my first years, and I’m doing things different this year:
– every Friday is a “recess” day. In past years, I spent one recess a week outside with the kids, regardless fo what I did. Talk about making connections! But because of more and more “stuff” on my plate, I’ve lost that, and it shows with the connections I’ve made. So, this year, I made a commitment to “play” more.
– You Matter notes. In a way, I did things like this, just leave notes of thanks in people’s mailboxes, but never with a purpose in mind. I love the you matter theme, and my students have gotten it as well. We just need to refine a bit, and I’ll be excited to see what we can come up with.
– listen to music in class. I’ve gotten away from this because of the classes I’ve had lately. In past classes, during a writing or work time, we’d have a student bring in a cd to listen to. Again, we made connection through music, either because we’d like the same music, or because I’d have to mock them for their music choices (or they me!!).
Why do we do it? For me, that answer is simply in the memories I have of 16 years of teaching. Someone asked me recently if I liked my job. I replied that I didn’t like it, I loved it. They asked why to which I replied, “where else can I go that my day will be different every single day? When I work with kids, 31 different homes, attitudes, and beliefs, I won’t have a day like the previous one, and I love that!”
Why do you do it? What brings you back day after day, year after year? I’d love to hear your story!