Tomorrow, I will go back to school at the end of summer for my fifteenth year in the classroom. When I began teaching in the fall of 2003, I was in my late 20s, with no experience and no certificate. Lacking in age, experience, and training meant that I had to bring some others things to the table: an English degree, writing and editing experience— and two that young teachers must have: hope and a willingness to work.
Though I’m not Old Man Wisdom by any stretch, I’ve seen a few things during the past decade and a half. I entered the classroom the year that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) took effect, which meant that, as an uncertified classroom teacher, I was regularly blind-sided by new regulations. Five years in, during the 2008 – 2009 school year, the Great Recession hit, and the subsequent funding crisis caused job losses and other funding reductions. (That’s when I picked up my English classes, in addition to the creative writing courses I was hired to teach.) The Alabama College and Career Ready Standards – my state’s version of Common Core – were adopted in 2010, the same year as the “Republican Wave” that brought control of the state legislature to the GOP for the first time in 136 years. By 2013, the pressure was immense in public education sectors, since that was the year for 100% proficiency required by NCLB, and it was also the year that our legislature passed the Alabama Accountability Act. Since then, NCLB has been replaced by 2015’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and Alabama has approved the creation of charter schools. Most recently, in my little corner of the world, the state’s Department of Education is doing an intervention with Montgomery Public Schools, the system in which I teach. Tomorrow will be the day to find out what that will mean for my work, so I’ll take with me those two things I had on my very first day: hope and a willingness to work.
Although I’ve been a teacher in a public school for fourteen years, I still consider myself an outsider in the field of education. Though I am certified now, I don’t have any degrees in education, instead choosing first an alternative route to certification then a master’s program in liberal arts. For this specialized arts program in a magnet school, the skill set required for my job as a creative writing teacher is different than for a traditional ELA classroom teacher. Moreover, my array of academic experiences cross several traditional boundaries. The bulk of my teaching experience is in high school, grades 9 – 12; my formal education would lend itself to teaching in college, yet I never got a PhD; and though I’ve taught creative writing for years, I have never been interested in an MFA. For that matter, my own writing regularly crosses over from the literary genre of creative nonfiction into the fields of history and journalism. Intellectual curiosity, not resume-building, has guided my career, and that has yielded some wonderful, albeit unorthodox results.
This year will likely be different from the others, in light of the intervention, but it will be the same, too. No matter what policy changes or new documentation requirements come about, for the next ten months, groups of teenagers will shuffle in and out of my classroom, and most of them will complete most of the tasks I will assign. An unfortunate number of those students (and their parents) will be concerned mainly with the points in the grade book, being more interested in a good GPA than in a good education. Yet, some will be truly eager to learn. And to a few, my effort will really matter, even though I seldom know which ones they will be. Those are the students that I really look forward to teaching. They are why I became a teacher in the first place. And to be frank, they are why I have remained one.