In elementary school, I fantasized becoming an A-list Hollywood actress. In high school, I fell in love with the idea of traveling into space. Then I graduated from a liberal arts college, and lived up to the stigmatized expectation of having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. So – much to my parent’s chagrin – I spent the next few years traveling the world, finding seasonal employment, and refining my skiing technique. Repeatedly, my mother asked, “when are you going to get a real job?” My best and only response was “at least I have not moved back home yet.”
Seasonal work provided travel opportunities, clearly defined hours, and perks like season passes. What seasonal work could never provide was connections with people like Laurie, Bill, and Allie. Each exemplify the various stakeholders that influence my experience as a teacher.
Laurie teaches technology. Unlike students, my colleagues never graduate; and therefore, define my work experience. Laurie and I have spent countless hours dreaming up new ideas, brainstorming connections, and hashing out schedules. No matter what the topic, amazing projects and learning have resulted from our work. This is not to brag, only to highlight that collaboration with colleagues who share a common goal and vision multiplies the energy, ideas, and expertise each individual brings to the table.
Bill is my principal. The attrition rate of new teachers is disparagingly high. According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, 38% of those educators that walked away from teaching cited dissatisfaction with administrative support as the reason. This is not surprising considering administrators have the ability to affect policy, procedures, and ultimately moral. During Bill’s first year, our school was identified as underachieving and mandated to undergo drastic reform. Change is not easy; but, Bill has a vision. While not perfect, the transformation process for the innovative teachers has been liberating. Because Bill continually provides inspiring professional development, insists on timely implementation, and recognizes excellence, our staff continues to improve the educational product we provide our community.
Allie is a student. She enrolled in a class which included fieldwork that took place during weekends and vacations. By the last day of school, I was exhausted. As I walked out to my lonely car sitting in the empty faculty parking lot, I questioned the value of my efforts. In the front seat of my car, I found a card with a picture of Allie and two other students, all smiles, arms stretched to the sky.
The note said:
Thank you for all of the time you put in for me and our class. You showed me that it is not about the result, but the process. This class gave me the opportunity to make some great friends and taught me that you should give everyone a chance to be a part of your life. You brought out the dreamer in me and I thank you for that. I couldn’t think of a better teacher to spend every day with, so thanks!
Even on winter weekends when the powder is prime and I have paid almost a day’s salary to stand in painfully long lift line along with all of my friends from out of state, I do not think twice about my career choice. The reason is simple – I love teaching. I love it for the people it shares with me. For the Laurie’s that spark my creativity, and the Bill’s that support my crazy ideas, and ultimately all of the Allie’s that fill my days with questions, energy, and priceless value for my effort.
Erica Wallstrom is in the 2014 Cohort of Rowland Fellows and is working with her fellow Fellow on developing Rutland High School’s Global Issues Network (GIN) – which strives to mentor and motivate youth to take informed, thoughtful and sustainable actions to address the most pressing global issues. Through the integration of academic disciplines GIN will foster communication, design solutions, participation, and understanding when grappling with complex issues that result from both the actions and inactions of students.