Friday, March 15, 2013


Recently, a fellow teacher who is part of my online tribe wrote about her difficult decision to leave her current position. She wonders if she should stay in the classroom and asked us why we stayed. I've been pondering this idea for days, but today crystallized it for me.


I have become part of my school's community, and when I feel myself losing hope or losing faith, that community serendipitously comes to remind me what is important. This week, despite knowing my to do list has not gotten longer and that my newly adopted role as journalism adviser is still a tenuous one due to low enrollments, I had several reminders of how I have become part of the community in which I teach.

For the past 8 and a half years, I've taught at Centreville High School. My first two and a half years, I taught 9th graders. Then it was 11th and 9th. Then AP Lang and 11th, which has been the core of what I've taught since my 3rd year. Two years ago, I had a singleton 9; this year, at least 7 of those 29 kids are in my 11th or AP classes. This year, I also added journalism. In addition, I've been the literary magazine adviser for 7 (?) years, worked the score and clock at basketball games for 6 years, and been a spring sports game manager for a few games each season for the past three years. I try to go to at least one of the performing arts concerts or a play every year, and I try to make it to games I'm not working, too.

Tonight, I worked as game manager at the boys lacrosse game. I know so little about the sport of lacrosse that I couldn't even give a coherent description. But that's not the point of doing the game management; the point is to see my students outside of the classroom. I learned my first year that some students need to see me support them before they support me. I also learned that I need to know them and see them in their element to bridge their lives to my classroom and to connect with them as people. These connections keep me going when I want to give up; I need them as much as the kids do.

This mix of teaching assignments and after school activities has enabled me to teach and/or interact with multiple members of families in the community. In two families, I've taught three siblings. I have at least 6 other families I can think of just off of the top of my head that I've taught two children in various classes. In addition, I've interacted with younger siblings of kids I've either taught or advised in clubs, too. I love seeing how different each sibling is; as the youngest of 4, I know what it's like to be compared to the older ones, so I try not to pretend I know who the latest family member is or will be. They are always delightfully unique.

So the reminders that I've become part of this community?

  • Talking to Danny's parents at tonight's game and finding out how Tommy and Erin are doing was fantastic. I got to laugh with Erin's mom about how her daughter, who relied on Mom to get her up in the morning, is thriving at the Naval Academy. But watching Danny score a goal and knowing I can compliment him on that and a good pass will help me connect with him, too. He's a great kid and a hard worker. He and his classmates alternatively make me laugh and make me crazy, which almost guarantees they will be one of my favorites in the long run.
  • Chris, a wonderful young actor and soon-to-be college graduate, was one of my 9th graders during my first full time year of teaching. I had him again when he was in 11th grade. He credits me and my theater colleague Mike Hudson for helping him get through high school. When he had a rough time, he knew Mike and I cared about him and were there for him. Today, he visited to let me know how he's doing (he's waiting on the results from call backs for a children's theater troupe!) and to thank me for teaching him how to write well.
  • Minah, who was my co-editor-in-chief of the literary magazine for two years, came to visit earlier in the week to talk about what's going on with her. She and I laughed so much when she worked on the magazine, and we still do every time we get together.
  • Allison, who I taught only a couple of year ago, lit up when I went to the restaurant where she works for dinner. She's on spring break, too, and doing well in college. Though I didn't get to talk to her much because she was waiting on other customers, I couldn't help but notice how happy she seems.
  • Sarah stopped me in the hall to thank me for teaching her how to write last year. Honestly, what I did was more giving her confidence in her own abilities. But her thanks came at a low point in my day when I really needed it.
  • The peanut gallery of kids I taught or who are friends of those I taught last year, shivering in the stands at tonight's game, decided to chant my name as I walked by and applauded wildly when I curtseyed in acknowledgement. Those goofballs put a smile on my face more than once today.
Even more reminders:
  • Running into the Catalanos anywhere in the community results in hugs and reminders that they wish I had gotten AJ this year. Lauren, who I taught in 9th and AP, now works as a substitute teacher in the school when she's on break.
  • Parents remember me, even when I don't recognize them.
  • Most of my former and current students say hi to me when they see me at stores (I let them initiate the contact so it's not "awkward." ;)  Teenagers...)
  • My co-workers and sorority sisters laugh with me, commiserate with me, plan with me, and offer me chocolate when I need it. 
  • My former students who read my blog will point out typos for me (I'm looking at you, Griffin of the sharpie 5 o'clock shadow! ;) ).
So, Beth, the reason I stay is because the community and the kids want me to stay. I'm part of this community. And I know sometime, I will have to leave; I doubt my entire education career will be spent at a single school or in a single role. When the opportunity comes for me to advance, I won't miss the grading. I won't miss the standardized test. I won't miss the long days.

But the day I leave will be tough for me because of the community (communities, really) I will leave behind; the classroom community that alternatively drives me crazy and makes me laugh; the parents in the community who trust me with their children and thank me for working with them and loving them; the colleagues who I turn to in happy and frustrating moments. 

These people keep me here and keep me going despite the frustrations of the job. Without these connections, I would leave, as so many other are. I hope I never see the day when the balance tips the other direction.


  1. You have stated the many reasons you are encouraged and feel connected to your community. Community is powerful and this is why. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection.

    1. Thank you for stopping by to comment. Even though I don't live in my school district, I am quite connected to the community. I cannot understand how one could do this job and not become connected.

  2. That being said, this is much harder to do when you don't live where you teach. My student-teaching was 45 minutes from home and while I really wanted to be more involved with those students outside of school - to go to their basketball games and their performances - I knew that I had a long night of grading and planning ahead and a long drive home. I tried to compensate for that with my first full time teaching job (35 minutes from home) by staying for everything (and to grade and plan) when I wasn't scheduled to be at my other job. But all of that was pre-motherhood. I live 7 miles from where I work. I run into parents and students everywhere - when I'm at the library or the YMCA or shopping or at restaurants. I make my best efforts to fit in at least one event per season, per group. Some years I do better than others. These connections are what keeps us going.

    1. I think that's exactly my point, though, Cindy. If I didn't live close enough to go back for these connections, I probably would have left much earlier. When I have colleagues who don't go to games or don't make the connections, I wonder how they can put up with the insanity of what we do.

  3. I love this post! You have described exactly the reason why i love being a teacher. In the last week when i found myself frustrated with colleagues, it was the kids who put a smile back on my face. Would you care if i did a piggyback type of post like this one of these days? It is nice to work with someone who shares ideas about teaching!

    1. I would be happy to see your thought on it, too.

      Some of my colleagues mention how much I do. Yes, sometimes I try too hard to connect and burn the candle at both ends. But I really do need the community to sustain me, too.

  4. THIS is what being a teacher is all about - making those connections and going the extra mile to be involved with the students. You are constantly weaving threads that hold this community together. Thank you for your service - and for sharing these snippets of lives and relationships.

    1. Thank you for again coming and sharing with me. :) I do love the kids I work with, and that community is so important to me.