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Next calling

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Fifty-percent of new teachers leave the classroom after just five years. Sometimes it’s burn-out. Sometimes it’s realizing you don’t really like teaching. Sometimes it’s moving on to your next calling.

I’ve already completed my struggling-blindly-treading-water-help-me first year, and in mere weeks, I’m about to conclude my still-struggling-but-thank-goodness-I’m-so-much-better-at-this second year. I have had my share of highlights, lowlights and lessons taught to me (and hopefully a couple learned by the students). Like every other passionate teacher, I work to close the achievement gap. But as a new teacher with almost 2 years of experience, I find myself at the crossroads of my classroom career. My 2-year commitment with Teach for America to my school is about to end. I must seriously consider, “Do I want to keep teaching?”

Yes. And no.

I never expected to really like teaching. When I joined Teach for America, I figured I would work my butt off for two years and teach as well as I could, but soon return to the journalism industry. I was even ashamed to introduce myself as a teacher (For months, I prefaced it by saying I used to be a journalist for USATODAY.com.)

So it took me by as much surprise as it did my family when I began looking into graduate schools of education on the East Coast. Even though I am already enrolled in a graduate program at Western New Mexico University, it would be years before I graduated, and I was already envisioning myself teaching in an urban school on the East Coast where I would be closer to my family. I pictured myself working my way up to becoming a reading specialist and then, one day, an administrator at a public or charter school.

Barely realizing it, I was planning my career around the classroom. It wouldn’t be in the school or community I have grown to love over the past two years, but it would be in a school and in someone else’s high-need community. As guilt-stricken as I feel about leaving all my beloved students, I was a bit relieved knowing that I would be teaching (and learning to teach) other students that needed plenty of nurturing (and high-frequency word drills).

But then, the not-so-expected happened. On the last day that applications were due, I applied to be a program director for Teach for America. Last month, I was offered a position in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. This job wouldn’t give me my own classroom, nor would it give me a set of elementary or secondary students to instruct. This time, I would be teaching first- and second-year TFA teachers, as well as supporting them, problem solving with them, and guiding them in every, and any, respect to the classroom. This was not part of my original vision for life after School Year 2006-2007.

But after serious consideration, I realized that this was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse—much like the chance I scored two years ago to teach on the Navajo Nation. With this job, I may not be able to influence 300-some lives at the level of depth I have been able to as a school teacher, but I will be able to influence countless lives by supporting their teachers.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying every joyful, tearful, frustrating and awkward moment of teaching.

(And there are many… like last week when my English class couldn't stop marveling (or giggling, or asking questions about, or drawing pictures of) my huge zit. And yesterday, when I made my big, burly middle schoolers march down the hall silently in a single-file line five times until they were able to walk and not talk at the same time. As one behavior specialist who happened to observe us approvingly said, “That’s repetition until submission.”)

17 Comments

It sounds like you are making a choice that is good for you and good for TFA and ultimately good for future generations of students. But I am sure that a lot of little hearts will be broken in your current school, so be sure to help them with transitions.

Be sure to keep in touch with your current school and students, as your new Navajo family will continue to need your ongoing energy, insight, and assistance, even if you are geographically far away. And, based on all that they have taught you and shared with you over the last two years, you will continue to need their insights, guidance and support as well as the years go by.

Good luck in Texas!

Congradulations! You are quite a person, and brave at that. I lived on the San Carlos Indian Reservation in Arizona, and I have a friend that works on the Navajo reservation. You have experienced, and survived might I add, culture shock, and education shock and survived. And now you have been given the oportunity to share your ezperiences with others, of which I know you will do an outstanding job. I am proud that you are going to stick with education, even as a mentor. This is important that we continue to attract others into our field. And even though the reservation is different than the "real" world (you have to admit there is a difference to understand this) you have a wealth of experiences to share with others. I personally wish I had the opertunity to go back to the reservation I lived on and give back. I hope your experience with the culture has been a positive one. Good luck with your future.

I am interested in teaching on a reservation. Any suggestions as to how I can get a job on one in New Mexico near Albuquerque?

Jessica, I have been reading your blog for months now, and have thoroughly enjoyed checking back each week to read of your experience. Now I feel compelled to leave a comment here because of your announcement about taking the Program Director position in the RGV. I was a TFA 2001 corps member in the RGV- and taught 3 years in a high school there. So I'm thrilled to hear of the next opportunity in your life-- the RGV is an amazing place, and the education community there is exciting. I wish you all the best-- from a fellow TFA-er, and a fellow RGV-er, a fellow-educator, I am so excited for you!

RESPONSE:
Susan-- I'm really excited about trying something totally new (all over again), but undeniably nervous. Thank you for your welcome!

Hi Jessica,

Nice to meet you, I was browsing the website and watched a short clip of your interview of your life in New Mexico. I couldn't believe that you chose to teach in a place where you have to live far away from your family and friends. I guess one of the questions that I am pondering was what influenced your decision to work at TFA?

Best wishes

hello
i was wondering if you could tell me how do you put up the calendar on your blog? thank you

Response:
Sorry, it was all set up on Movable Type when I got the blog from Teacher Magazine. I would contact customer service for Blogspot or Google if I were you.

It would be my pleasure to make friends with you :)

For Laura looking for a teaching positon in NM near Albuquerque. Contact me. Thank you.

Writing for USAToday.com? Isn't that an oxymoron? I think you mean typing.

RESPONSE:
I think you must be trying to make a cut at USATODAY.com. Actually, I did do writing for them, as well as editing and Web designing. If you have a beef with the news outlet, feel free to contact the editors at http://asp.usatoday.com/marketing/feedback/feedback-online.aspx?type=12

>>With this job, I may not be able to influence 300-some lives at the level of depth I have been able to as a school teacher, but I will be able to influence countless lives by supporting their teachers.

"...at the level of depth I have been able to as a school teacher..."

Perhaps you mean at the level of depth you have as a tourist in the teaching field - tourist, because now you will exit it and teach other teachers to rise to the level you've achieved thus far, the "still-struggling-but-thank-goodness-I’m-so-much-better-at-this second year."

And when those potential teachers ask you about furthuring their career in teaching, you can certainly say to them "Two years is all you need! Then you can enter a program to teach teachers with the wealth of knowledge you've obtained!"

By all means, let's perpetuate the turnover you yourself quoted. "Fifty percent of teachers leave the classroom after just five years." What a model you will be! You got out before your third, and now can teach teachers!

As to your claim of success: "And yesterday, when I made my big, burly middle schoolers march down the hall silently in a single-file line five times until they were able to walk and not talk at the same time. As one behavior specialist who happened to observe us approvingly said, “That’s repetition until submission.”

Because Native Americans haven't had enough "repetition until submission" lessons throughout their history? And they couldn't stop marveling at your huge zit? Or were you just too naive and inexperienced not to giggle along with them and count it as some sort of meaningful classroom experience?

I truly hope the "countless lives" you impact due to your "supporting their teachers" doesn't come anywhere near my district, my students, nor the teachers who would teach there, because it would be useless, except in the terms of charity - volunteer warm bodies paid to oversee classes and keep students entertained with zits, undermine their cultural heritage with forced marches through the halls, and get out as quick as you can to inflict the next wave on the next generation.

Regarding the previous, vitriolic comments by YS – you are simply a mean person and offer nothing constructive. Maybe you have a personal ax to grind - I don’t know. I have been following Jessica’s blog since last fall, and have been teaching for almost 20 years. She has given us wonderful insights into her world. I am grateful to her for sharing. Others are too, judging by all the positive comments.
You seem to imply that Jessica has little to offer her own students or other teachers. That’s ridiculous. Must all teachers teach as long as I have before they can have an impact on students or support fellow teachers? - of course not. It is apparent from her writings (amusing, insightful, humble) that she emphasizes life-skills with her students, and cares deeply about not just their education, but their wellbeing as well. I for one would be excited and proud to have Jessica as a colleague in my school in any capacity. I hope your out-of-line comments do not deter Jessica from the great things she can do in the education field.
Rather than disparaging those trying to foster improvements YS, perhaps you can direct your energies and superior wisdom to improving our educational system.

You're going to love the RGV!

Jessica - while I come across your blog a year later and have read through the comments from others I agree with Pam regarding YS. I am currently an Instructional Assistant looking to become a teacher within the next several years. YS will certainly not deter me from my calling. I must know what you felt when you read the nasty comment from YS.

I am teacher at a lower income school in Oklahoma. Becomming a great teacher takes many years of practice. To consider giving other teachers support is an awesome thing to do, but it takes years of teaching to know how to help other teachers.

Improving our educational system would consist of providing well educated and experienced teachers as mentors for new teachers.
From experience and several college courses, marching students up and down the halls until they are quiet is not a developmentally appropriate practice for classroom discipline and guidance.
I would hope for a more educated and experienced mentor, especially if I had taught for more than two years!

It's funny to see a couple of hard asses on your blog. They are teaching so hard that they have time to blog--it's quite funny. It almost seems that they are invalidating your experience and advice, which is something they would deny. If they taught on a reservation, they would understand that your two years really equals out to 20 years at their schools where education is actually envisioned and respected in the community realiy. Those nay-sayers are insecure, single, lonley dillweeds without lives. It reminds me of the people who say, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Teaching is the most draining occupation on the planet--unless you are building pyramids as the Egyptians did. I've been in many-a-field, and teaching, especially on a reservation, is surreal. Take your blessed experience and humbly share it with those who actually accepts their need to grow. I commend you. Also, who's the douche who claims you can't write for USATODAY.COM? What's up with mean people? Where did their parents go wrong?

I am interested in teaching on a native american reservation in Texas. Any ideas where to look? Thanks Daren

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