Ten years ago I sat in a room with with five other teachers as we prepared to launch our Freshman Academy. It was my fourth year of teaching so I knew how to start a school year, but I also knew enough to be nervous on the day before kids arrived. But this was a completely different kind of nervous.
We had no idea what we were doing. We all had our content area down, but for the “Transitions” class itself there was no curriculum. We had big plans for how we were going to ease the transition for our 8th graders to make the move to our side of the building and enter high school. We knew they needed support. Our principal at the time recognized that freshmen could benefit from the same sort of team approach that had been successful at the middle school level. But as far as day-to-day plans? We were literally making it up as we went along. Planning a week at a time in our lunchtime team meetings. And two days later, I’d walk down the hallway to see one of our English teachers and ask, “What are we doing today?”
It’s kinda funny in retrospect, but, damn. That’s a bad way to fly. But, we’re pros, we figured it out. Most of those kids did OK. I see many of them on Facebook. They have jobs and families and lives and everything. The next year we used a canned freshman curriculum and it turns out that we had a pretty good handle on the kind of support we should be giving 9th graders – study skills, homework help sessions, financial literacy, motivation, a consistent team of teachers. It all worked out.
That incarnation of the Freshman Academy is history, although the concept still exists as a way to provide support for our most at-risk students. Despite the changes, the nature of a 6-12 building has built-in advantages. The transition from 8th grade to high school is eased a bit because newly minted freshmen don’t have to go far to track down their favorite teachers from years gone by. My Tech Team lead Chevin Stone paints a beautiful picture here. Au revoir but not adieu….
You know what 15 year-olds (and 16-year-olds, and 17-year-olds, and…) are really bad at? The transition from lunch to hallway to class. I get that the cafeteria noise level is roughly equivalent to a jet taking off at O’Hare. High school hallways are loud just in general. But why does it take 5 minutes to get settled in to a class and get started?
It’s kind of like:
I’m making a transition too. Friday was my last day. I spent an afternoon packing 13 years of teacher stuff, some of which had traveled 1800 miles in the deal, loaded up my car, and said my goodbyes. It was hard, man. You know what Nelson Algren said about Chicago, right?
“Once you’ve become a part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.”
It’s like that with me and Gavit.
I’m terrible at tearful goodbyes, but we all got plenty of practice this week.
I wasn’t looking to make a move. I’ve said for years the School City of Hammond is pretty much the family business. But an opportunity kind of fell in my lap, the kind it’s worth picking up the phone and asking the question. I’m going to a new district, to help with a relaunch of Project Lead The Way. Math too. Going to teach where I live. Literally could ride my bike to work in less time than it took to drive to my old job. Different clientele, both kids and adults. Four Star school. Green leafy suburb.
I’m an urban teacher, but as I said in the interview, “this is how I teach, doesn’t matter if it’s Hammond or here or on the moon.” I wish I could tell you that “how I teach” carried with it great results. That all my algebra 1 repeat students suddenly fell in love with math and school and passed the ECA and my class and my world was filled rainbows and unicorns.
Well, maybe except for the rainbow part:
It’s awful dusty in here all of a sudden. I told those guys pretty much daily that I love them. They were killing me, but I loved them. Not sure how many of them believed it. But: it’s true.
Got a nice sendoff from my teacher friends as well. It was a little like having a funeral while still alive to appreciate everyone. I’m leaving behind an incredible group of smart, tough, hard-working, fun-loving teachers, administrators, and staff. Our students are lucky to have them. When they talk, I listen. One thing I noticed though: Nobody told me “good luck”. They all said it was a perfect fit for me, they’d miss me, but that I was ready for what’s next.
And as tough as I am on myself, you know what? They’re right.