Passion exists inside me, not inside a job

This blog post has been in the works for a couple of weeks now and was coaxed out by Dan Callahan’s post One for the Record Books over at Geek.Teacher. His post reflects on the mixed feelings he has around changing schools, changing positions.

My own recent job change has had me thinking along the same lines.

Dan writes:

I’ll admit to being very conflicted that I’m abandoning a lot of the core elements that have defined my first eight years as an educator. My new position is going to be so drastically different from what I’ve been doing on so many different levels, and it will differ in a lot of ways from what I set out to do when I got my first job.

* I’m going to be moving from a semi-urban district to a much more suburban environment.
* I’m going to be moving from middle school to elementary school.
* I’m going to be leaving special education to work with a much wider portion of the student body.

In my darker moments, I’ll admit, it feels like I’m selling out. While I know that my new position will have its own challenges, I have to admit that those areas highlighted above feel important, and it feels like I’m abandoning them.

As many of you know, I loved my last job. It was infused with ideals of teaching I believe in strongly – working with students who have been marginalized much of their lives and showing them it doesn’t have to always be that way, putting the student before curriculum, the necessity of relationship, the heightened sense of making a difference in students’ lives.

I used to teach students in grades 10 and 11 at an alternative program, kids who were at risk to not graduate high school but were identified as bright, needing a different environment. Close to half of my students were Native students (Mohawk from Kahnawake). I now teach French in an elementary school in a rural area of Eastern Ontario and at first I, like Dan, thought that I was abandoning those ideals I held close by leaving that job.

Those feelings are also entangled with the sense of real abandonment I fear I’ve left my students. You see, I took the new position with 4 days of teaching plus an exam period left in the year at the old school. The decision wasn’t easy but necessary to gain experience in the Ontario school system. I was able to take it because of the tight teaching team that exists in that program. I didn’t leave my students to flap in the wind with a random substitute teacher. I left them with some of the most caring people I know. That is another fear I have, attached to another one of my ideals, that I have left a teaching team that embodies collaboration, caring, and raising the bar for ourselves and our students.

So, while I was excited to be starting something new and to be on the track to better work/life balance by working at a school in my area of the world, I was also thinking about everything I just wrote about. Not to mention the fact that all of this was happening in June, not usually my most energetic month!

Soon into my new job, however, I began to make connections with my colleagues and with my students. The first time a student came to me on the playground, “Madame Tracy, please help,” I thought, “All is good”. I realized that I am still excited about helping kids to learn, though in different ways. And I remembered, it is not my job that defines me but me that defines my job.

I find inspiration when I need it and at the end of my 2nd week at the new school was intrigued by a tweet in my twitter feed from Elona Hartjes:

The link led to a talk on TED by Srikumar Rao called Plug into your hard-wired happiness. The line, “passion exists inside you, not inside a job,” seemed louder than the other lines that were spoken in the video. And I realize that everything is going to be ok because I love and am passionate about working with kids and teachers, about being part of a caring community dedicated to the children within it, about creating hope for the future within community. My job helps me to live out my passions but it isn’t the sum of them.

June in a sentence

My twitter feed tells me that some of us have finished teaching for the year, some of us have not only finished teaching but are on summer break already, and some of us are still out there.

Teaching in June. What a situation to be in. It happens every year and each year it is just as challenging to keep things exciting, to keep the bar high for my kids and myself. Well, come to think of it, it usually isn’t as challenging as this year.

This year I have an extra added bonus kind of challenge. You see, I haven’t done much June teaching at all in the past 9 years or so. I’ve been a high school teacher and the June teaching time is usually only a few days long before ‘the exam period’ starts (raising some … tension … when I’ve worked in schools that housed both elementary and high schools).

On June 1st, 3 days before I was scheduled to stop teaching for the year, I accepted a position as an elementary school teacher until June 30th – placing me smack back into June teaching mode! As the new teacher, no less! So my challenge is getting oriented AND keeping things interesting and relevant for the kids. One of my grade 6 students asked me why we were doing a certain activity – what was the point. Yikes. The point was that I was focusing on classroom management in that class (34 kids! I’m their 3rd French teacher this year. They are testing me big time!) and I just needed them to sit at their seats and focus on a piece of paper in front of them and, really, writing a summary of a play that we are (trying:) to complete by the end of the year is not such a bad thing either. But the thing is – she didn’t see why we were doing it. I need to work on relevancy.

So, how are you holding up this June? Any reflections on what you want to work on, what you want to leave behind, what keeps you excited about teaching at the end of the year?

Here’s my reflection, what I want to keep in mind for the rest of this year and the years to come. My June in a sentence:

Keeping it real and relevant while having fun, smiling, laughing, and making connections.

ps – as always, comments will be held in moderation until next Sunday.

Where in the world is Tracy Rosen?

Just so you know, as I typed that title I was singing, ‘where in the world is Carmen Sandiago’ in my head. Just so you know.

A week ago, last Tuesday, June 1st to be precise, I changed jobs. Of course I still teach. Though the context and audience has changed significantly!

I am now teaching French as a 2nd language to students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 at a public school 15 minutes from my home. Oui, c’est vrai.

The decision to change jobs had me torn in a few different pieces. As you know, if you’ve read previous posts of mine, I loved working in the alternative program. I love each and every one of my students – no matter the hard time they may have a given me! There is something special and unique about students between the ages of 15 and 18, those students who have a drive to succeed and need kind, caring adults to help them get there. But I was breaking away bit by bit, traveling up to 3 hours a day tired me OUT and I felt so much less of what I am from the constant exhaustion. My original plan was to find a position for next year. I figured that if I jumped, by giving my principal my notice even before I found a position, that the net would come. Well, I wasn’t quite expecting it to come swooping in so quickly!

I was offered this position to finish the year and potentially continue in the same one next year. I was offered it on a Friday to begin the following Tuesday. That weekend was spent in hibernation mode. I finally decided that since there were 4 class days left and then the exam period at the old school, I could make the break by leaving plans for a substitute teacher for those 4 days and continuing to evaluate the students’ work in order to write their final report cards. It is so difficult to find a teaching position in my area and I finally decided that I needed to get my foot in the door, so to speak, by accepting this position.

I’ve registered for a Teaching French as a 2nd Language (FSL 1) course over the summer. The Ontario College of Teachers is very specific about the qualifications they require for a teacher to teach a specific subject. After this summer I will have the FSL qualification on my teaching certificate and so will be officially qualified to teach French. Apparently that is one of the easiest ways to begin teaching in my school board. Of 35 or so new teaching positions posted last week, 30 were for French positions.

So here I am, starting a new chapter in my professional life. Have you ever been the new teacher in June? Imagine it for a moment….