Geek-turned-Teacher Year 2: I am NOT a Euro-snob

I am NOT a Euro-snob…well, maybe a little.

In 2003, I got to do three amazing things many people only dream about.  First, I flew to California and cheered from the 50-yard-line as my beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first Super Bowl. (Thanks to my awesome sister-in-law and father-in-law for making the entire trip free).  Two weeks later, I was watching the rain-soaked Daytona 500 with a free ticket from my boss.  In October, my wife and I went on a two-week Rick Steves‘ tour of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.   Shortly afterward, I quit my $70,000-a-year, 5-minute commute software programming job to become a teacher.

There are moments in your life when you realize you are experiencing something you will remember for decades.  Events so rich you know you will be telling them to your grandchildren or to anyone who will listen at a retirement home when your life is in its twilight.  Such were the multitude of moments from those three trips.  I drew on those incredible memories in my first year teaching on my own.  I vowed to teach these kids about the pure joy of celebrating a victory with lifelong fans, the magic of medieval castles along the majestic Rhein River, and the horrors of the Mauthausen concentration camp.  I wanted them to know the world was their oyster and they could go anywhere and do anything they wanted.  They did not have to live the same lives their parents and grandparents did.  As it turned it, they taught me more about their culture than I taught them about mine.

I was lucky.  I did not have a class of my own to manage the entire day.  I moved from class to class, working with individual students or groups of students.  The students ranged from kindergarten to fifth grade and had difficulties ranging from behavioral issues to learning problems.  I enjoyed the variety and movement my position afforded me.  I got to know more students and teachers than anyone in the school.  I got to learn the culture of the school and how it operated.  That first year, the teachers were so grateful for my help in their classes, it never mattered how long I was there as long as I was supporting them.  The second year was very different.

Meet the new boss. NOT the same as the old boss.

We had a new principal and several new teachers.  We also had more students.  My first year our school population was around 650 yet our overall building capacity was around 1,000.  We were a magnet school in a high-poverty area, so we used the magnet program to draw students from other areas of town to our school.  But we weren’t drawing enough.  At the same time, several smaller schools in the area were overcrowded and could not accept more students.  So the school district decided to create a village of schools were students from the surrounding area could go to any of the schools and they had priority over magnet students.  As a result, our population increased to nearly 900 students in one year, most of them neighborhood kids from the other schools.  So much for the magnet program.  Also, our new principal had just come from a very small school.  Now she was taking over a very large school with almost 300 new students on top of the 600 already there.

When I met my new principal, I was thrilled.  She was the polar opposite of my former administrator: open, easy to talk to, and she listened to me.  I used to say to my friends that I used to carry a shield when I walked to my former principal’s office.  I used the “shield” to protect myself because she would immediately start attacking me for something before I could even sit down.  I’m still convinced the only reason she didn’t fire me that first year was because I was a male and special education certified, a combination so rare in elementary schools that should have convinced me to play the lottery.  This new principal actually smiled and asked my opinion on school matters.  She even called me by my first name for a little while.

The impossible caseload

Happy as a clam, I started working on theoretical time travel cloning, also known as my student contact schedule.   Those of you who have written schedules for elementary schools might have some idea of what I am talking about.  Scheduling reading, math, writing, gym, music, art, lunch in a six-hour day for a class of twenty students is nothing short of a nightmare.  Now image you have to do the same thing multiplied by 6 (kindergarten through 5th grade).  Then consider the students you have to see are in different classrooms within different grade levels. But wait, there’s more…you have no planning time and have morning, lunch, and afternoon school duties to perform.  Good times.  During my second year, I was supposed to service 35 students every day: helping them with work, modifying their tests, helping the teachers grade their work. etc.  I actually calculated it at one point and determined the only way I could legally service all of my students was to make FIVE copies of myself and send each clone to a different classroom.

Somehow, I managed to get through the year keeping most people happy.  I even wrote 15 additional Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for a teacher who quit in the middle of the year.  I was on fire and loving every minute.  It was the high point of my time at this school.  But the end of the school brought a major change:  I was going to be a father the next year.

Next:  Who’s Your Daddy?


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