Monday, June 2, 2014

Some Other Beginning’s End

This Thursday my time as a teacher at Cooper Middle School will conclude. I will begin the 2014-2015 school-year in a new school. It is daunting and exciting all at once. While I will, no doubt, write quite a bit about my new school (and all of my new adventures), I would like to take a moment and talk about both Cooper Middle School and this change.  

In the Spring of 2011, I found myself conducting an aggressive job hunt as the private school I had worked at since 2007 (and intended to work at for many, many, many more years) closed. The business of closing a school due to monetary issues is a nasty one, and if you want to read more about it, you can click here or here. During 2011, the economy was very poor and teaching jobs in my area were scarce due to yearly teacher lay-offs and furlough days. Even my private school had been laying-off teachers. When I started working at the private school, I was one of three Visual Art teachers; by the time of the school’s closing, I was the only Visual Art teacher. Long before there were any rumblings of the private school closing, I had purchased my own home in the area. This complicated my job search as the housing market in my area at that time was bad, and I would most likely face foreclosure if I took a position that required me to move. When Cooper, a Title I school, offered me a position, I was quick to accept even though the commute (depending on traffic) was anywhere from 45-75 minutes one-way.

I had worked in a Title I school prior to working at the Coop (as we all affectionately call the place), but it had been during my second year of teaching. It is important to note that prior to my fourth year of teaching, I had no higher education in the practice of teaching. So, you know, that second year was a little brutal. I was thrilled to be hiredat Cooper, and during the summer of 2007 I eagerly planned for the next phase in my life.

Teaching at Cooper has been an incredible experience. I have had the extremely rare pleasure to work for a principal who is not only intelligent and dedicated, she also believes in what she does, stands by her decisions, and truly does what is in the best interest of the students. My experience in education has led me to believe that leaders in education like my principal are scarce. It was a little bit rocky at first; I had to say , “no” quite a bit to the whole one-stop-poster-shop-art-teacher routine.  . . But, once my principal realized what I could do, she encouraged me and did everything within her power to give me everything I needed and/or wanted. That’s pretty special, y’all.

I’m reluctant to talk about the kids here because I’m worried I’ll start crying. . .And, since I’ve avoided crying so far, I’m concerned the cry-session will be long. But, these kids. Oh, these kids. I have loved them and I love them. Forever. I was only able to tell a few about the change before the end of the school-year, and the response was humbling. My honors kids insisted on a class picture and then stood and gave me applause (talk about a once-in-a-lifetime moment!!). Even my 8th graders, who will go on to high-school in the fall, are bummed because (as they say), “you won’t be here when we visit!!” We have since traded contact information and plan to stay in-touch across teacher-student-appropriate channels. It is an all-around sad, sad, sad thing to be leaving these awesome, talented, special kids whom have frustrated, charmed, provoked, and challenged me into being both a better teacher and person.

So, why the change?

The commute is killing me. I spend at least two hours a day (most days more) in super-aggressive metro Atlanta traffic simply getting to and from work; this costs around $10/day. In addition to my normal teaching day, I am actively involved in other education-related professional-type stuff. I finished my EdS in Inclusive Education in May, and begin my EDD in Special Education in August. I am an adjunct professor of Art History at a local community college. I am the team-lead for a community-based service consortium for my district; my team organizes career and college fairs aimed at those who may not be aware of such opportunities. I organize a district-wide Art show every fall (and oh-lawd it nearly kills me!). I am also the Area President for my district (and three adjoining districts) for the Georgia Art Education Association. I am busy y’all. I am so busy.

This spring, in the midst of a total stress-out, I realized that something was going to have to give in my life; I simply could not continue in the manner in which I was going. Yet, so many of the professional activities in which I engage are important to both my heart and my career development. The most logical thing to eradicate was the extra-long commute. So, I did. I found another ah-mazing school in my district that is much closer to home and practically next door to my university; I begin there in the fall.

It has been a difficult thing to say “good-bye” to the Coop. My district is colloquially split into “North County” and “South County.” Typically, it is the (sometimes inaccurate) belief that those in the north are more affluent and have “better” schools, and those in the south are low SES and have “bad” schools (incidentally, I am presenting for Art of Education about this “bad” coding during the Summer Conference). More than one colleague, upon learning of my job move, said to me, “So, you’ve done your time down here in South County and are moving on up to North County?” It hurts to hear that. Even the students are aware of this bias, and one of my sweetest girls asked me, “are you leaving us because you want to teach rich kids?”

My heart breaks when kids perceive and/or feel that they are being ignored or left because they are “less than” or unworthy. We have got to work to change our coded language about people and kids; it is so damaging!  I chose my new school because the location cuts my commute in half and the student population is diverse. My areas of research and academic interest are all related to critical multiculturalism and equity in education. It would be a hard thing to continue to pursue such research and experience if I went and taught in a homogenous environment. The Coop is Title I and 76% of students are eligible for free and/or reduced lunch. My new school is Title I and 51% of students are eligible for free and/or reduced lunch. The Coop is 73% Black, 13% Hispanic, 10% White, 3% Multiracial, and 1% Asian. My new school is 42% White, 32% Black, 18% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 3% Multiracial. Will the environment at my new school be the same as the Coop? Well, obviously that answer is, “no.” But, it still has a diverse body of students, and one that I am excited to teach.

But, this week is all about goodbyes. And, it is terribly sad. I’ve taken a strange path in my career as a teacher and prior to the Coop, I left all of my teaching positions because I unsavory reasons (district lost accreditation, a private school went out of business). I have been happy at the Coop; I’ve worked with tremendous people, and make life-long friends. The students have become people I genuinely love and will always consider as school-family. It is tough to leave a place you love and look into the great unknown . . . But, thems the breaks. Sometimes, something has to give.

I’m looking forward to sharing the next adventure with you. 

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