Thursday, August 28, 2014

So Many Random Thoughts from this First Week of School

1. Holy Cow. I always forget how absolutely tiring the first week of school is.

2. For some reason that I will never understand, I wore heels to school yesterday (the first day of school). I had to climb the 3 flights up to my floor about seven hundred times. My toes are still numb.

3. Sixth graders are so cute. I know they will turn into monsters in, oh, about a week. But for now, man these kids are adorable.

4. It has been a crazy, crazy week. It's probably been the least smooth "first-day-of-school" since I've started teaching - I've just felt discombobulated. Not entirely sure why.

5. Here's a reason: this morning, I made it all the way to my exit on the interstate...and suddenly could not remember if I had turned off my frying pan. I've been forgetting lately, and I could not remember the action of turning it off. So, yes, I went home and checked. It was off. Part of me hoped that it was on, just to justify the trip and wasted time. Fortunately, my new school is a bit closer than last year, but it definitely was not convenient. But I didn't want to burn down my block...so...I'll double check tomorrow. And I'll proceed to spend the next month telling myself out loud "I turned off the burner on the stove" each time.

5. Wow. So many new acryonms when you teach in public school. I have no idea what people are saying to me. Smile, nod, and google it later, I suppose.

6. So far, I really have been impressed with the general kindness, warmth and openness of the faculty and staff at my school. I think it's a tough population of kids, but I have been inspired by how gracious, compassionate, and genuinely caring the faculty and staff that I have observed have been. Excited to be a part of this group of people.

7. I am quickly learning, as I transition from private to public school, that if you taught in some random school in Africa, well, you haven't taught at all. [Sarcasm Sign] It also doesn't help that I look like I'm 16. Fortunately no one has asked me for my hall pass.

8. Even though I bristle when people act like I don't know what I'm doing because I taught in some random school in Africa (ugg - I'd just prefer to be treated like someone who hasn't taught in public school...not as someone who hasn't taught at all), I feel like it's my first year of teaching all over again. Is it possible to ever start at a new school and not feel that way?

9. Random quotes:
From another teacher: "I don't know what kind of teaching situation are coming from...The principal said you taught in Africa...and that you didn't have electricity there?"

From a sixth grade boy: "Miss Bowers, I hate to break it to you, but if you were born in Africa, and you grew up in Africa...you're from Africa."

From another student: "But how can you be from Africa?? I mean, your hair looks like it's from Africa." (??!) (I should add that this came from, well, an African American student...but, hey, maybe they're confused? Because we also have an African American student with red hair and freckles...)

10. One of the posters I put up by my desk is a "retro" travel poster for Gallifrey - the Doctor's home planet. I didn't expect any one to get it, but one of my kids came up to me and asked me if I liked Doctor Who! I was so excited!

11. Tomorrow is Friday - and a 3-day weekend. Looking forward to being able to regroup and get my head in the game.

It's been a ridiculous three weeks - but I'm so thankful to have a job, and hopeful that despite the newness of it all that I'll find my place and find my teaching groove soon so that I can really help these adorable monsters reach their potential.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Well, that escalated quickly.

One week ago, I wrote about uncertainty about my future. One week ago, I did not know what was going to happen to in me one week, two weeks, or two months. This may sound melodramatic, but it's true: I've spent the whole summer in this odd sort of limbo, literally (literally! used correctly!) not knowing what I would be doing at the end of August. It's a strange, strange feeling. Sort of like looking at one of those infinity pools at fancy-shmancy hotels, but not nearly as relaxing.

As of today, I have a bit of a better idea! Today, I was officially offered a position for middle school Language Arts/English at a school in Baltimore County (for professional and personal reasons I won't share the name of the school on the blog or social media but feel free to ask privately). I am not even sure what grade yet, though I believe eighth grade. I was officially offered the position, and I officially accepted about three seconds after the offer was made.

It started on Tuesday: I got three different messages all at the same time from three friends at my previous school, letting me know there was a job fair for Baltimore County. Baltimore County is the school district that I stupidly (no, really, it was stupid) missed the deadline for English screening interviews. But, Lo! and Behold! There on the list of six different general areas of critical need was...wait for it...middle school English. I could go to this job fair and interview without having had a screening interview. The most ridiculous and best part of the job fair? They were planning to extend job offers the day of the job fair.

If you smell a scent of desperation in the air, well, it's there - from what I understand, this district has had a record number of retirements this summer, and a record number of vacancies. This is part of the reason I have been kicking myself so hard about missing the screening interviews...if any school district was going to hire me, this was the one because they need able bodied teachers.

Well, the joke's on them, 'cause they did hire me. So there! Take that, deadline! And the receptionist who curtly informed me I had missed it!

The job fair itself was a whirlwind, and somehow I got on some sort of fast track through the interviews that I can only attribute to God, and possibly clerical error.Though I wasn't the first English candidate waiting, I seemed to be sent into my interviews immediately, while the others that I knew were there for English and were in line before me, somehow were not.

I got there too early, and sat and read nervously in my car for 25 minutes before I deemed it "cool" enough to go in (as in, I didn't want to be the first, awkward person there and seem too eager). I was given Number 30, and asked to wait. I waited about twenty minutes, before being taken back into a hallway-acting-as-a-office, passed my documents to the HR screener (after awkwardly sitting in his chair, and then having to switch), who glanced over them, declared that they gladly hired teachers from New York (where I went to college, but hardly where I'm from!) and led me to the next stage of the interviews.

A young woman then sent me into a scary room filled with a sea of interviewers - administrators from the various schools, and sat me down at a table with an assistant principal. We exchanged greetings, and he said: "Well, the position that I'm interviewing you for is eighth grade math. Don't be nervous - you'll do fine," he said kindly.

"Well, actually....I'm here to interview for English. I'm pretty sure you don't want me teaching math," I said feebly. We chuckled together, awkwardly, and I was sent out of the room.

Two minutes later, the same young woman led me to the same table, and the same assistant principal. I was puzzled.

"I'm just going to do your general screening interview," he explained congenially. And we were off.

Job interviews are a funny thing for me. I typically have a hard time remembering what I've said after the fact. I talk so much and so fast and so exuberantly, and I sometimes don't know where the things I'm saying come from, or I find myself bringing up teaching anecdotes from moments I've completely forgotten, but suddenly, there they are, coming out of my mouth as if I had planned to share them (and the actual anecdotes I planned to share are no where in my brain to be found).

After the first interview, I sat down for another five minutes or so, and then was pulled into the intimidating administrator-filled room to interview with another assistant principal - this one for a school actually looking for an English teacher. This interview was much easier than the first, because she just scanned the notes from the first interview, asked me a few more directed questions and then hinted that she was very interested in offering the position.

Twenty minutes after that, I was sitting down with human resources personnel being officially offered the job. Like I said - I accepted in a heartbeat. I had already decided in advance that if offered a position, I would accept. I prayed a lot about it in the days before, and I believe that if God lead me to this job fair, and lead me so far as to actually be offered a job, after waiting so long to find one, that it would be kind of crazy to turn down any offer I received.

I drove home in a daze - an actual daze. I'm not sure how I got back, but fortunately I got home safely.

It's still rather surreal, and I know that it will be for the next week or so - and then, of course, the panic will set in, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it with, inevitably, another blog post, I'm sure.

Thanks for your prayers. Last Friday I honestly did not really have much hope that I would find something. Again - I was being more realistic than negative (I still hold to that!), because realistically, it's hard to assert yourself when you have no face-to-face access with administrators and no knowledge of the positions available. This job fair was not even on my radar, and I owe a huge thanks to my friends who brought it to my attention. (And, one of those friends is looking for an elementary teaching position - so if you think of it, you could now shift those prayers for me to find a job and offer up some prayers for her - or, if you know of an elementary job opening in the Baltimore area...let me know asap!)

This school is going to have it's challenges. Baltimore County is not Baltimore City (different districts), and so I'm not going to be teaching in the "inner city," though it is only just over the city line. It will be a different kind of population than I have taught. I'll be teaching "blue-collar" kids (as my mom tactfully put it), rather than the children of ambassadors. I say that not to sound pretentious, but to honestly and humbly say that I recognize that this will be a huge challenge for me. I know that I will have classroom management struggles, and I know that the academics abilities and expectations of my students will be different than I have taught. I'll be stretched to make adjustments in my teaching practices, and stretched to reach kids for whom school and academics do not come naturally. But I'm really, really excited - perhaps naively so, but right now, I don't care about being naive. I'm thrilled that God opened this door for me, and I believe with all my heart that God lead me to this place, this school - whatever challenges may lie ahead.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Holding Pattern

It's August 1st, and I'm still waiting for a job. And, yes, I'm still trying to trust that God is going to work it all it out. It's not that I don't believe that it will work out, I'm just in the midst of not being sure it's going to work out because I can't see the future.

Not that I could see the future before, but when you have a job, you at least have a sense of what is going to happen to you one month, two months, six months, twelve months later. When you decide to quit your job (despite feeling an enormous peace that it is the right thing to do), it's a bit scarier. God provides...but of course I am feeling a bit more anxious about that provision as I just got my final pay check.

It's really scary to step out in faith. It's also kind of idiotic, practically speaking. I'm a rather practical person, and so a big part of me keeps kicking myself for doing so. But, there's this other part of me that feels so relieved to get out of such an uphappy situation that I don't care if I end up being a Wal-Mart greeter (or worse - one of their surly cashiers). Actually, I do care if I end up a surly Wal-Mart cashier, but you know what I mean, right?

I've been pretty realistic with myself about my prospects of actually finding a full-time position - that I probably won't. No idealism for me. That doesn't make me want it less, and doesn't make me feel less discouraged at the prospect of not finding one. I say realistic - my parents have told me I've been negative. It's just hard to have faith that something will come along. It's easier to see the glass as half empty so that when something doesn't come along, you don't feel as disappointed.

My attempts at finding a job seem to be rebuffed. All school districts in Maryland are the counties, and every district is the same set up - applicants are placed in candidate pools, rather than being able to apply for individual positions.

I missed a deadline for screening interviews for one school district/county (ironically, the school district that is having record numbers of retirement this year) because of my own stupidity. No, really - it was a stupid mistake, don't try and tell me it wasn't (even though, in my own defense, I was never informed there was a deadline), and as a result I won't be in the candidate pool for that district this year unless by some miracle they run through all of their English candidates. The other district/county that I applied to seemed to be a viable option, but as much as I have pushed the HR department there (ironically, it's the one department where I actually know someone who works there, though she doesn't have hiring powers or interview-setting-up-powers), I haven't been given a second interview (it's a 3-step interview process) even though I was given the green flag to go onto the second interview a year ago. Without that 2nd interview, I cannot be in the candidate pool, and therefore I am unable to be considered for open positions. And, in the third district/county, though I am now in the candidate pool (I had the screening interview last week), I have heard nothing since. New staff orientation starts August 11th. It's up to the individual schools and principals to contact me now, and let's face it...English teachers are a dime a dozen, and though I have six years of experience under my belt, none of that is in public schools and I don't have my master's degree after all this time.

So, I've waited this summer, feeling guilty that I haven't really looked for a non-teaching job yet, partly because I've been financially okay, and partly because of the hope that I would get a full-time teaching job. I haven't been  moping around, as mopey as this post sounds - I've had a pretty relaxing summer. Just so you know, if I don't get a full-time position, I'm hoping to sub, which at least gets my foot slightly in the door, and keeps me in the classroom.

I'm not really sure what the point of this post is. Maybe just to update everyone - or anyone - who cares a bit about my small little lonely life here in Baltimore, Maryland. Maybe just to throw my voice out there, to join the cacophony of people complaining about their lives, and how it isn't turning out the way we wanted it to. Maybe just to ask you to pray, if you pray, for me. Not so much that I'll get a job, as nice as that would be, but that I would have faith, that I would trust, that I would lean not on my own understanding. Because my own understanding whispers in my ear, telling me that I'm no good, that I was foolish to quit my job, that being extremely unhappy is better than being unable to pay my bills, that nothing will come along, and I'll be forced to get an unfulfilling, pointless job. My own understanding is a jerk and something of a liar...and so I need to seek His way, His truth, His peace.

Thanks for listening, friends.