The Change Chronicles: Part 4

Let me start by saying I have had some very good news from the Zone of Employment Transition recently. It is always a little weird to be re-envisioning one’s gainful future, but all things considered I am not really worried about any of it – which is really uncharacteristic for a Virgo/Dog getting deeper into middle age everyday who chose to be a teacher in a city that values youth only slightly less than it values obscene wealth.

But the thing is I know I can get a job. I am good at what I do and there is always a need for people who do what I do – they even need those of us who will never carry a gun. [This is probably not the time to remind every single human who can read that we do not expect any other service professionals to be armed as they carry out their duties – and also worth noting that their duties pale in comparison to those of teachers… you know the ones who are supposed to do, well, everything apparently.]

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Anyhow, in spite of the positive news coming my way and the solid odds that I will be gainfully employed before my current contract even terminates, I found myself being a little Goldilocks-y yesterday, like nothing quite fit. I was thinking about how I made this really intentional change last year to do something different and in so doing seemingly changed my career trajectory.

Or did I? [Unsure.]

Did I need to? [To be determined.]

I certainly had some clear ideas about the kind of changes I wanted to see in my career. I thought I was being really conscious about it all – but maybe I was just buying into the prevailing narrative that surrounds us about what makes a person successful –> mo’ money(?) I have no idea if making more money is going to make me happier – although I like the possibility of that outcome. Here’s what I know is true, you can only be as conscious of any situation as the circumstances allow. And it is no secret that the job I took was not the job I applied for. So, why the hemming and hawing about returning to a situation that is more similar than different to my former professional incarnation?

“You almost had a job in tech…” Said my very insightful neighbor who is the best roommate I never had.

“Yeah, I think that is it, you know? I thought maybe I would be going that way…”

“Why would you want to do that?” She asked, gently, but sincerely.

And she is so right. What I saw and experienced on the tech side of edtech (which I have a whole lot of opinions about as a concept after this year…) was not anything I thought it might be. In fact, when I think about it, even the things that I had looked forward to in the tech world turned out to be sort of sad, hollow efforts to seem cool. I was often reminded of those kids you know from school who are always trying so hard to be all that, and really they just end up being so painfully extra.

The tech culture felt empty. Soulless, even. And this is not for a lack of amenities or money or confidence. I just could not find the authenticity in it that I had become accustomed to from two decades of working in a profession where authenticity is one of the only things that can’t be scratched from ever-diminishing school budgets. Ironically, the tech sector, especially start ups, cannot afford authenticity – they don’t have the time to be invested in people, committed, loyal. They need to be flexible, they have to pivot, they have to have no reservations about walking out on people they promised to build something with; it is the nature of the beast.

This is not some effort to lambaste the tech industry (not that it would be undeserved) and it is certainly not a critique of my current company – it is just the simple acknowledgment that all the flash in the world cannot replace the realness that I have found in every classroom I’ve ever worked in.

So when I find myself considering a return to a more traditional teaching environment (at least in terms of priorities and workload) maybe I don’t need to worry about turning into Mr. Hand (right away anyhow).

I was worried that I was passing my expiration date, or losing my (required) ability roll with the crazy of working in a high school. But I think, if I am being really honest, I was tired. Really, really tired. And I was feeling like the remedy to my fatigue would be working less and getting paid more. I thought a more tech centered job would offer that. I was not thinking about what would be missing.

I am still regularly disheartened with the salaries I see people earning in tech (and no one is telling them they need to carry guns). Further, I am unconvinced they are making the impact on the world that people may credit them with. But, if you are lucky enough to build a career that you are really good at, even if you are horribly underpaid, maybe staying the course is not such a bad decision. As my sage little buddy next door said to me, “if you don’t want to be a grumpy old teacher, don’t be a grumpy old teacher.” Exactly. Whatever I end up doing next year will be so different than anything I’ve done before even if it looks similar from the outside because I am not the same person.

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Tomorrow I am going to see if my barista can spell Heraclitus.

Stay tuned.

 

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The Change Chronicles: Part 2

Bill of Goods: as a phrase, has two meanings. The less common is a delivery of goods, a consignment. The more common definition is something that is knowingly presented in a false way, usually with the intent to deceive or gain something by the trickery. The vast majority of the time it is used with the verb sell. Occasionally one will see the phrase with the verb buy.

Change is weird. It shouldn’t be because it is basically the only certainty I have come across in my life. Although, still thinking about last week’s MSDHS massacre – or as I like to call it, Massacre Rubio – incidentally, the 18th school shooting we’ve had this calendar year, it seems somethings never change. Much more on this later….

I am unclear why some people embrace change so easily and some balk at the idea of it. I am also unclear where I actually fall on that spectrum – sometimes I feel like I am cool with all the changes and other times… not so much. The only recognizable pattern I can see is that it comes down to who determines the change is going to occur. I guess it is just like the rest of life – a control issue. I am in the midst of some pretty big changes these days and as I reflect on them and think about whether or not I am finding them thrilling or depressing or terrifying, I keep going back to a turn of phrase that was laid upon me by one of my agents of change on February 9:

You probably feel like you were sold a false bill of goods, huh?

The (unintentional?) mic drop gave me pause then (actually, it rendered me speechless, which was both a benevolent miracle and a total surprise) and now as I am looking at the definition and seeing that false bill of goods is actually a redundancy.

So, that is annoying.

I have been saying (repeatedly) that I intentionally embraced a huge change last year by leaving the public sector and taking a position in a private school, and not even a traditional school but a company that is trying to sell “school”. In some ways that is as bad as it might sound, but in some other ways, it is really inspiring. In this day and age of design thinking the belief is that the way to revolutionize something is take a quasi-nihilist approach and take nothing from the past. To rely on cliches one might say chucking the baby out with the bathwater, but in the interest of avoiding a reliance on two cliches in one post I will go with quasi-nihilist. A focus on solutions rather than problems is something that the public sector is really missing – even if it was not really the fault of those within, it is hard to be expected to do everything for nothing after all – and I was thrilled to think that I was working with people who were focused on facing the problems I have been witnessing for years in American education. We need a fresh take on what we want from education and this seemed like an ideal merger – ideas and experience and energy.

What became clear not long after I began my new adventure (and it has been an adventure in all the best and worst ways) is that I had only pulled a geographical, I wasn’t in some magical place – because magical places are not where shit gets done. The truth is the necessary work to effect change in systems as entrenched as education cannot be treated in the same way we see in other areas. While an extremely dynamic approach to applying solutions will certainly lead to a lot of new strategies, this kind of fluidity has unusual consequences in a classroom – and I am not talking to the kind of classroom most people like to imagine when they think about schools (cue Pink Floyd), I mean in any learning environment. Still, I’m willing to bet the majority of kids in America feel like they have been sold a bill of goods regarding their education: do well in school, get a good job as a result, win at life. Clearly that equation has devolved to disingenuous and beyond.

I am deeply and unrelentingly committed to working towards education reform and creating environments where students are inspired to learn and try and do, rather than recall and release, but I have a much clearer understanding of the kind of strategies that might require. I have my current job to thank for that.

And at the end of the day, it is not about the place, or the computer platform, or the strategic plan. It is about people. And relationships. And really believing that education still can transform lives in meaningful ways. It may happen where I have been recently, or not. And I know change will come to education eventually, regardless of the role I play – but I hope I get to have my say. Although, it will definitely not be where I am right now.

This may or may not be because I was sold a false bill of goods. I am still working out what that means. But it will be because I had to learn that I don’t fit in everywhere even if I think I can, and that sometimes when someone awkwardly turns a phrase like “I bet you feel like you have been sold a false bill of goods, huh?” they see that your ideas and expectations are not what they can support – and possibly (hopefully?) acknowledging their contribution to the ill-fitting circumstances – and all of it is okay. Especially because as a naturally inclined change resistant human, in some ways it is more than okay, it is necessary.

And if it’s not actually all about me, a lot of it is, because the person I am has ideas and solutions to offer and although delicacy might not be on the menu, I am going to continue to unrelentingly try to be the change I want to see and be encouraged by the changes that I come up against at the hands of my agents of change.

 

The Political Line: Keith Haring @ The De Young

 

Keith Haring was the first artist I chose to love all by myself, outside the influence of my parents, or however else it is that we begin to understand our tastes. I have several pieces in my home, (prints of course…) and have always kept my eye out for his work (see poster ripped from a wall in Salzburg above.)  Haring broke out on the scene when I was at the perfect age to grab on to a new type of pop art. It was bright, bold, the lines spoke to me. I mean I was a pre-teen in the early eighties… I was loving the slick, stylized feel of big colors (Esprit anyone?), smooth lines (Nagel – don’t hate…), and looking for something that made sense to me in a world that seemingly made less and less sense. But these were strange times, and they were going to be all the more stranger for me as I started to see the eighties emerge around me.

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Things I remember? Telling my mom to vote for Carter not John Anderson because in our mock election at school, the Anderson votes had led to a Reagan victory, and due to the narrative I was generally exposed to, I was pretty sure we were all going to die a soon as Reagan took office. John Lennon’s murder. Xanadu. Some drama in Iran. No-nukes rallies. Michael Jackson. The emergence of the Anti-Apartheid movement. Olympic boycotts. Live Aid. Our first Mac. My step-dad’s first cell phone: the Brick. And some artwork that was showing up in New York’s subways.  Today I got a screaming refresher course in the decade that took me from 10 to 20.

From the first time I saw Haring I knew that this was an artist I understood. I understood the frenetic feel, contrasted with super clean lines and bright colors. I understood the politics. He spoke to things I knew about and would grow up under the influence of: AIDS. Crack (is Wack). Oppressive governments. Racism. Homophobia. Environmental devastation. The computer age.

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I learned somethings I didn’t know about his work and his life, and his techniques. I learned that Larry Warsh is maybe the most bomb-diggity art guy in New York. I learned that a Sheikha in Dubai owns a couple of amazing pieces of Haring’s work. I learned a new phrase: VISUAL VOCABULARY. And I like that a lot. And Haring was basically right that more people go to the subways than go to the museums – although today, it hardly seemed that way. A huge crowd – nearly as interesting in its diversity as the exhibit added much to a stunning exhibition.

There has been a lot of discussion of Haring’s work and it’s intention – aesthetic? political?commercial? sell-out? watershed? Maybe it is all of the above. I like to think so. I can say, more than 30 years later, his work has a prescience and a relevance that is almost eerie. And seeing this amazing exhibit at the De Young in San Francisco today took me right back to a crazy period of time that shaped me and informed so many of my sociocultural priorities and concerns… so how cool to see it all before me today.

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For a ton of amazing images from museum visitors, go to Instagram and click on the De Young Museum Keith Haring Exhibit location tag. #Awesome.

 

This is ridiculous: A resume.

I have been a high school teacher for coming up on 20 years. In that time I have worked with students ranging in age from eighth to twelfth grades. And what have I done?

I have taught World History, World Geography, US History, European History, American Government, Comparative Government, Economics, World Literature, American Literature, Language and Composition, General English, Creative Writing, Identity and Society, even a little P.E. here and there. I have developed and supervised student internship programs and study skills classes. I have taught courses in the IB program(me), AP courses, A Levels, remediation courses, test prep courses, language acquisition courses, and done private instruction. I have even done some adult education. I have been an athletic coach (basketball and track & field), and academic coach (forensics, speech & debate, Academic Olympics, Mock Trial.) I have planned, organized and supervised field trips, out of state trips, over night trips, and activities for my students. I have developed and implemented curriculum in several subjects. I have been a department chairperson. I have served on site councils,  in boosters clubs, and on teacher mentoring committees. I have never had issues around classroom management, or discipline regardless of the location or demographics of where I have worked. I have supervised student teachers, I have trained teachers in curriculum and methodology. I have piloted programs integrating technology into secondary schools. I have presented papers at professional conferences. I am certified in TESOL/TOEFL and taught over seas for nearly six years. I have an MS in Cultural Geography. I have had my work published, I have been featured on television as an innovative educator. I have given radio interviews about integrating controversial current events in the classroom. I have written hundreds of letters of recommendation. I have traveled the world, largely on my own. I am culturally aware and literate. I can communicate with all kinds of people, really well. I can write. I am well-read. I am incredibly efficient. I have an insane work ethic and I absolutely get shit done.

As far as what else, I suppose you could ask my former students. there are like 2,000 of them out there. They might have some things to add.

So why are there no jobs out there in any field outside of the classroom that I am “qualified” (at least on paper) for? I love teaching, but I would like to do something new. Something a little unusual. Maybe something unpredictable. Something where I can actually earn a salary that is commensurate to my experience, abilities, and work ethic, or at the very least have the chance to negotiate a salary based on these ideas. It is ridiculous to think that teachers cannot do this.

Help me find the perfect job. I am ready.

Seriously. All suggestions welcome.

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Completing the “Circle”.

THINK COMPLETION – COMPLETE THE CIRCLE – THE CIRCLE MUST BE WHOLE

There are many, many interpretations of what the end of days might actually be for humanity. These apocalyptic renderings range from euphoric (see This is the End) to the more generic religious warnings, (which, from what I understand, are supposed to also be rapturous, but generally fall to horrifying, macabre threats of doom), to the reality of our self-perpetuated stupidity hitting home (see Idiocracy), to scientific explanations to suit all kinds as well, (are you a Big Banger or do you prefer the Steady State sensibility?), to literary warnings along the lines of those portended by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in their wildly divergent means to a seemingly similar end. Having read both 1984 and Brave New World multiple times as a student and a teacher, I always felt, as Neil Postman (see Stuart McMillen’s artistic rendering of his thesis below) seems to have concluded, that Huxley had a more accurate take on the detrimental human state, and that it was not oppression that would be our end, but unlimited everything…. Achieving one’s altered, yet higher state from a perpetual food-coma as it were. [Soma in a nutshell, eh? Actually, yeah.] And while there are important take-aways from both novels, as I have grown up into this 21st Century lifestyle, watching a world with the capacity to solve all of its problems choose not to, and watching an ever-increasing sense of connection lead to what really looks like isolation… both theses seemed somehow lacking. They were close, but not getting at exactly what I was seeing and feeling. Then I read Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle.

And now I think I know exactly what to be afraid of.

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