Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Greatest Adventure Begins with a Single Step

I suppose the title of this post refers to both the adventure of teaching, and the adventure of blogging.  While this blog will focus on the wild ride of teaching high school students in the 21st Century, the act of actually sitting down to write my first blog post is a first, single step for me as well.  It's a step that has been long in the coming and, I hope, will be part of a great adventure of processing my own experiences in a community of friends and teaching professionals.

A bit about me.  I've been teaching at the high school level for fourteen years now; ten of those at a magical little school in South Burlington, VT called Vermont Commons School.  My first four years were spent cutting my chops at Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush, Brooklyn - not a long stint by any means, but long enough to get a taste of what it's like to teach in a massive, bureaucratic school system.  I loved the students I got to work with each day (mostly recent immigrants from the West Indies) and I appreciated my hard-working, devoted colleagues, but I had very little love for the NYC school system, the way it treated its students and employees, and the systemic shackles that kept teachers bound to a micro-managed curriculum.  We were expected to be automatons rather than creative, inspired professionals.

I left the school system after four years, not because I was fleeing the NYC Board of Education, or the fate I saw in the cynical, defeated, just-get-me-through-to-retirement eyes of my 30-year veteran colleagues - but because my wife and I wanted to begin a family somewhere outside a major city.  We settled on beautiful Burlington - the "big city" of Vermont - and I began my job search.  I scoured every public high school within an hour's drive of the city and turned up a very frustrating nothing.  Almost by accident, I stumbled upon the information for Vermont Commons School.  I was committed to the public school system, but I decided to give a desperate call to the school and try my luck.

My life basically boils down to a long series of lucky breaks, and I count that phone call as one of my biggest.  "I'm calling to see if you happen to need a Social Studies teacher."  "You called at the perfect time.  A position just opened up!"  It turned out one of the two Social Studies teachers had just informed the school that she was leaving.  A resume and a visit later, and I was hired.

If there is spectrum opposite of the behemoth bureaucracy called the NYC school system, it is Vermont Commons School  - small, nimble, focused on the needs of everybody in the community, and founded on a trust in its excellent teachers to create their own magic in the school.

That is the fertile ground into which I was planted ten years ago.  The freedom and encouragement that I have received from administration and faculty has nurtured my innovative spirit, allowing me to follow my teaching passions, to try, to fail, and to try again.  I feel like I am still only at the very beginning of this adventure of discovering what it means to be a teacher in the 21st Century and, more than that, to be a learner.

I look forward to sharing this adventure online with the assumption that you are also on a professional journey of your own, and with the hope that we can learn from each other as we take our steps.

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