The End of an Era: Leaving BTW Magnet

It is bittersweet to do so, but after nineteen years of teaching Creative Writing at our local arts high schools, I’m moving on to the next big thing. The decision was complicated and difficult, but ultimately, taking a new position is the right thing to do. Come fall, I will join the English faculty of a small liberal arts college.

I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into the Creative Writing program and the school, and those efforts – along with having many wonderful students over the years – yielded significant results. Between fall 2003 and spring 2020, the students and I published seventeen issues of the annual literary magazine Graphophobia, held readings and performances in venues all over town, wrote a blog called newsprung, put on a sketch comedy show thirteen times, took innumerable field trips to destinations near and far, partnered with various groups and institutions, and published four grant-funded books. I couldn’t be prouder of them and of all we accomplished together. The unfortunate fact is: even good things must come to an end

Over the last year or so, there have been many polls and news articles about how and why teachers are quitting the profession. (I’ve even shared a few of those myself.) For me, the pandemic and its effects are only one aspect of the equation, and moreover, I’m not leaving the teaching profession. I still enjoy teaching and value education, and I always will. For me, this choice is more personal than sociological. When making any big decision, I always remember the lines in old William Wordsworth’s poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” when he describes being “more like a man / Flying from something that he dreads, than one / Who sought the thing he loved.” Decisions that are driven by what we don’t want will not land us where we do want to be. For me, this is less about leaving where I have been and more about going where I will be.

This move to Huntingdon College fulfills a long-time goal of mine: to teach on the college level. While teaching composition as an adjunct at Auburn University at Montgomery from 2011 through 2013, I realized that my sensibility and teaching style really lend themselves to a post-secondary classroom. When I started at BTW Magnet in 2003 – with no training and no experience – I modeled my plans not after the state standards or sample lesson plans, but after the college professors who had taught me the most. More often than not, returning graduates tell me, “College is just like your class.” Ultimately, that’s what I was trying to do: prepare them for college, which can be the greatest learning experience of one’s life. Now, rather than paving the way to that great experience, I get to be a part of it.

I’m going to miss working at BTW Magnet. My relationship with the school began in 1990 as a student at the Carver Creative and Performing Arts Center, which was BTW’s part-day predecessor program. I then joined BTW Magnet’s faculty in 2003, eleven years after graduating from the program. Today, I’ve spent nineteen school years there. All in all, I’ve had some connection to the school for about twenty-one years— nearly half my life, and most of my adult life. Now, it is time to make a change, to see what the next decade or two will hold.

I’m thankful to everyone who helped to make those years good ones. Our principal and my fellow faculty members, custodians and lunchroom workers, a whole range of supporters and benefactors, lots of supportive parents, and of course, more students than I can count— too many to name! And partners at institutions all over the state, folks from a multitude of situations, programs, and projects, who thought enough of us to say yes when opportunities to work together arose. From the Harrison family at Hamburger King around the corner from our old campus to the Creative Writing faculty at George Mason University who once hosted us when another group in Washington DC cancelled at the last minute, the support, assistance, and cooperation that I’ve enjoyed have been so vigorous that I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t been there to see it myself. 

Yet, it’s time to look forward now. And I’ve got work to do— syllabi to write, readings to select, and plenty of other tasks, too!

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