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An Itch Scratched

November 14, 2013

For what would it mean to experience our own actions in such a way that the terms good and bad don’t apply?  It would mean living like animals, without doubt as to our life’s purpose.  It would mean living in such perfect alignment with that purpose that our every act flowed effortlessly from what was highest and truest in us.  (Philip Simmons, Learning To Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life. Bantam, 2003)

For the last six years, I’ve been exploring a career in administration.  Becoming a school leader, I reasoned, would put me in a better position to impact more students, pursue my passion of curriculum development, and provide a better standard of living for my family.  While I enjoyed the administrative work, I never loved it, and as a consequence, I often drove home feeling tired and unsatisfied.  With my wife’s encouragement (thanks Heidi!), I spent time soul searching and determined to reorganize my priorities to place a greater emphasis on my family and personal happiness.  To help my family, I decided to take a year off from teaching so I could become a stay at home dad.  I also determined that working with students in the classroom would be more fulfilling than becoming the head of a middle school, so I resolved to return to teaching full-time when I came back from my sabbatical.  The sense of peace I experienced when I made the decision gave me confidence that I had made the right choice.  Then last week, I had an experience that validated that decision when I spent the day substituting at a local independant school.

I was asked to cover for a Spanish teacher, which amused me since I haven’t taken Spanish since 9th grade when I managed to survive for ten days before switching to Latin.  As I sat in traffic on my way to school, I pondered if I was up to the task of teaching a language in which I wasn’t fluent.  The morning got off to a rough start when a freshman came into my first class and challenged me by putting his feet up on his desk to see my reaction.  I laughed and told him to put his feet down and while he did, I spent the rest of the class period worried he might push the boundaries again.  There were no incidents during my next class when I worked with a group of juniors and seniors to answer questions about a reading assignment.  It was an easy lesson to teach, but I found myself struggling to stay engaged and needing to really think through what I wanted to do to fulfill the lesson.

All of that changed when I walked into a sixth grade Spanish class.  Despite not knowing the language, I felt completely at home because these eleven and twelve year olds were “my kind of kids”.  The sub plans called for me to have the students work independently on their Rosetta Stone for the entire period, which was like asking an addict to not indulge.  I was dying to teaching something, and so while they were practicing their pronunciation, I created a project where the students worked in groups to use the vocabulary they were studying on the computer to create dialogues as if they were members of the Red Sox (this was the day after Game Three of the World Series).  The act-it-outs the students created were great, and I left class fulfilled knowing I had taught well and the students had learned something.

The drive home was reminiscent of the scene in Jerry Maguire after he convinced Cushman to sign the contract.  I was blasting my music and singing along despite the stop and go of rush-hour traffic. The joy and satisfaction I felt was so different from the drives of the past six years.  Instead of feeling tired, frustrated, and weary about having to help my own kids with their homework, I drove home energized, carefree, and ready to conquer whatever my own kids teachers had thrown at them.  While I will be sure to make the most out of my sabbatical, I am eager to find a middle school classroom where I can practice my craft.

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