Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The 300 Days: Part 2 - The Sweat and The Glass

"Driving in on this highway,
All these cars and upon the sidewalk,
People in every direction..."
It sliced down his forearm to the edge of his extremities, pausing for merely a moment on the edge of his index finger before allowing the laws of gravity to take it from there.  The bead of sweat, joined by dozens more, seemed to strike the pavement in a drum-like rhythm.  Ironically, the sounds of percussion also bounced off the pavement, as Will marched forward, covered in red, white, blue, and the saline that was currently draining from his body.
It was September 11, and the patriotism of Columbus was made known by the bellowing of an army of drunks.  However, this day's vitality would not be measured nor bound to the act of cowards barely over a decade prior, but rather on a beautiful, green piece of sod; a pitch, to be specific.  The battlefield was Crew Stadium; the enemy:  Mexico.
Me gusta.
Two hours prior, Will had quickly changed his wardrobe at school and was now looking for a parking space near the stadium.  The World Cup only occurs once every four years, and the day’s match could determine, essentially, who would be top seed on the continent and earn a bid to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  Needless to say, there were supporters from all over the country that would do their part of ensuring “Dos-a-Cero” would repeat itself for an unheard of 4th consecutive time at Crew Stadium.
It seemed as though that each of the continental United States were represented on this day, and Will drove around a one mile radius, looking for any vacancy his fuel-efficient economy car could fill.  To his chagrin, he would end up parking about a mile and a half northwest of where he would normally park for a soccer game.  The game was still three hours away, so he knew that his luck would not improve.  So with that, he tied his stars and stripes bandana over his brow, and paced quickly to meet up with his fellow supporting brethren.  After only two minutes, Will’s skin was a salty film, a product of the day’s hot and humid conditions.

Five hours later, two American goals later, and 90+ minutes of stellar play later, “Dos a Cero” again reigned supreme.  Columbus Crew Stadium once again became the Mecca of US Soccer, and hell on Earth for Mexico.  His voice hoarse, his skin a leathery mixture of sweat and Budweiser that showered him from above after each goal, Will just wanted to drive home, exfoliate the excess freedom from his epidermis, and get some sleep; after all, it was still a school night (Will regretted not taking the next day off, in retrospect).
As Will meandered the side streets in the surrounding neighborhood, he considered how amazing the shower would feel, the cool water refreshing his skin.  As he neared closer to his car, he wondered how bad traffic would be, and how long it would take him to get home.  As he arrived at his automobile, he exclaimed “what the hell?!”
There, scattered all over the street were shards of glass, the spot formerly reserved for his driver’s side window was now vacant with air.  Tiny specs of glass peppered the interior as well, on his seat, in the cup-holder, on the passenger’s seat, and on the floor….where his laptop bag had once sat.
No me gusta.
Some three or so hours later, after speaking on the phone with the police, insurance, and his fiance, he carefully sat down atop the pieces of broken glass using an old college textbook as a cushion, and shut the door. The impact caused another explosion of glass from within the door.  Will cringed and grimaced both at the noise and his predicament.
Nothing could be done.  Because the contents of the laptop bag were not sufficient enough to file a police report, the crime would go unsolved.  The only satisfaction that Will got (if there could even be such a thing from this) was the fact that the perpetrator likely thought he was getting a new, fancy piece of equipment, only to find dozens of student pre-assessments and his school photographs.  So, whoever this colossal asshole was now knew that Will resembled a sedentary Zac Efron, that he was a teacher, and that his students did not know shit about science.

You never consider how deafening the highway actually is until you drive with your window down. The only one of Will’s senses that wasn’t numb from the day’s activities was his sense of touch, which he was also losing.  At 2 am, he arrived home, showered, and collapsed in a heap.  What seemed like the instant his eyes shut, his alarm went off, and Will’s day began anew. He concluded that he would do the professional thing and contact his principal, Mr. Evans, to alert him of the situation.  Normally, losing property of this type (especially pre-tests) was not too big of a deal, however, these were state mandated pre-assessments.  
At the end of the day, Mr. Evans came into Will’s classroom and listened to his tale of patriotism and larceny.  He was very understanding of the situation and even made light of the situation, stating “man, that sucks….and that was a great game too!”  He simply said that Will would need to have the students re-take the assessment (which would only take perhaps 10 minutes).
Will slept easier that night, knowing that he had the backing of his administrator, and a brand new window on his car.  “This was only a hiccup,” he thought to himself, “this will be a funny story to tell further down the road.” Such naivety.  As that would indeed be the most enjoyable tragedy he would endure henceforth.  He surely would have preferred to have sacrificed a hundred windows and laptop bags before he would choose to experience the coming months....

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The 300 Days: Part 1 - The Corona and the Rollercoaster

"I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
- the last words of Sir Isaac Newton

The warm sun, the cool Pacific breeze, the Corona in his hand; life wasn’t too bad, even if the Corona was a little warm.  Southern California will do that to you.  Somewhere bordering the two oceans, one of beach-goers and one of the saltwater variety, Will sat and contemplated the ongoing saga that was his professional life.  To say that Will was a persistent individual was an understatement.  For five years, Will had taught in a variety of school settings, but none hit that Goldilocks zone...

The charter school he started his career at was the closest thing to experiencing the reign of Mussolini, but it was close and the staff were friendly.  By year three, the angry fascist leader’s tactics finally drained Will’s hope of continuing at that school.  So, he began to scour the planet looking for a job, any job, that would get him the hell out of there.  Sometime, two months into the school year, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of a small, rural district some 45 minutes away.  While Will’s confidence was rather shot at the moment, his desire to rid himself of the ice cold grip of the tyrant outweighed it.  It was this type of stern desire that guided him.
One week later, Will was packing a mere single box of his belongings.  He did not tell his students, as he did not want to cause any sort of panic.  Kids want structure and sameness.  Any sort of deviation in this may cause chaos.  Knowing his pupils the way that he did, he no doubt had made the correct decision.  The bell rang, the final farewells to the staff that he tried to grow with was a bit more difficult than he imagined.  From above, it was much like any other school:  generally a friendly staff and a group of tough kids who, like any other group, wanted to be acknowledged in their own way.  The missing piece was the leadership, which without, cannot lead to a successful educational environment.  Indeed the foundation had crumbled, and Will was leaping out of the nearest window, but not without turning back once more as he ran, to see his cohorts of two years looking back at him stern smiles, but with a melancholic gauze.  “Take us with you,” their eyes seemed to say for only a moment, before their focus returned to their own individual predicaments.  Will would have if he could.  And perhaps their suffering was short lived, as by the next year, the staff largely had been rid of, most by their own accord.

A drop of the keys on the front desk, a casual smirk to the tyrant, his arms wrapped around the final belongings.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a glimpse is worth a thousand more.  Will may not have said a word to Ms. Mussolini, but his confident strides said everything.  No more staff meeting tirades, no more condescending emails, no more “punishing” the staff by mandatory meetings before and after hours or prep time.  His box may as well been a stick with a bag tied at the end, his tattered overalls and blistered bare feet waiting for the next train out west.  But it was like his life was beginning anew.  With that, Will solemnly walked out of the building, got into his car, and pressed play on his iPod.  While his extensive playlist was on random shuffle, the first song was anything but.  The tunes of Radiohead echoed off the building that he called home for two years, ready to take the next (blind) step in his career.

Some three years later, Will had the itch again.  While he was quite satisfied with his position, his fellow staff, and his students, he considered long term.  Was the 45 minute, 50 mile commute worth it?  The answer was always a somber “no.”  He saw himself in a solid, high achieving district near his home.  This district was lacking the proximity component.  So as Will toed the warm California sand, the ever existent low-level anxiety was pulling at him.  A ticking clock.  He knew the window was closing.  Being a teaching veteran of five years with a Master’s degree to boot, many districts would not even look at his resume.  As one Human Resources director told him at a screener interview “we look at your experience and education and wonder ‘why would we pay someone $15,000 more when we can hire someone right out of college?’”  
Will still pressed on, despite the window closing slowly by the day.  And while that burden weighed him down at all times, he still was somewhat hopeful that everything he did was “part of the plan.”  While pessimism dominated his psyche, there was still just a faint glimmer of hope that destiny was yet to play out.  No stone was left unturned; Will even took 9 college credits in a six-week time-frame in order to gain a teaching licensure that would allow him to teach a broader range of students and subject areas.  
As the warm, perfect late-July day moved on, Will took a break from the beach to do some homework for one of these courses.  But not before doing his usual job search on the online databases.  He saw one particular position posted as “Middle School Science” in a well-ranked district in a rapidly growing suburban area.  He checked over his credentials, as he customarily did, and clicked the “apply” button fixated to the bottom of the page.
About an hour passed, working diligently on his coursework when there was a buzzing from his phone:  a local area code popped up and before he could answer, it went to voicemail.  Five minutes later, Will was pacing the beach, setting up an interview for the position he had applied for not 60 minutes prior, agreeing to a time that was suitable upon his return to Ohio.  With that, Will jogged to the beach-house to share the good news.  His confidence thermometer skyrocketed, bursting the glass tube that attempted to confine its contents.  “This is it,” he thought to himself.  He was nervous, but he was just as confident.

Four days later, Will put on his best shirt and tie, while a mixture of anxiety, nervousness, and confidence pumped through his veins;  an odd concoction, but just the necessary amount.  He shook the hands of the principal, assistant principal, and science department leader and began the interview.
Will was a machine.  Will was charming.  Will was articulate and thoughtful.  His eyes were blue.  His smile may have also been warm enough to gently warm our planet on a cold winter day.  Not a question asked went unanswered, and the responses given felt natural, yet correct (if that were possible).
Again, Will got into his vehicle, this time under better circumstances.  Within 20 minutes, one of his references called him and said that he had just spoken with the principal.  The next 24 hours seemed to take an eternity, but by early evening the next day, Will’s dream came true, and was offered the position.  His at-the-time fiance burst into tears when he gave her the news.  Finally, Will could teach in a great district, coach in a great district, thrive in a great district, and even be fairly well compensated (at least in contrast to his previous experiences).
Once Will gently landed from his journey to the stratosphere, he peeked at his calendar, and realized that the school year was starting in less than two weeks.  Between that moment and the first bell he needed to:  resign his previous position, formally accept his new position, contact his previous schools to verify experience, fill out paperwork, attend new teachers meetings, meet his new science team, associate himself with the new curriculum and standards, learn the school discipline policy and related rules, and familiarize himself with the staff.  Maybe, if he had time, he would also get a breast-enhancement.

Will was ready.  He was nervous, yes, but he had never really failed at anything at this point. His persistence was his greatest virtue, and that would surely bode him well.  Being the new kid on the block, Will knew that he either needed to kick someone’s ass or join a gang.  However after realizing he wasn’t incarcerated, he decided that the next logical thing would be to learn.  He was now surrounded with very knowledgeable people, it seemed.  It was helpful to know that there would be such support for someone who was starting fresh.  The plan was simple:  to learn, to experience, to lead, to guide, and to be guided.  Will was responsible for well over 110 pupils, instructing them in the ways of science, and it would be foolish not to utilize his cohorts as formidable resources, seeing as they had taught science for many years.  
In his short teaching career, Will taught on an island, never truly having a mentor or learning from a battle-tested veteran. As with two sides of every coin, there were definitive results from this type of isolated experience.  For one, he learned independence quickly.  Some teachers are prone to quickly adapting their teaching style to match that of someone else’s.  You wouldn't have Lebron James play quarterback for the Browns, would you?  
Ok. You probably would.  
Perhaps you wouldn’t ask Lebron James to play wide receiver for the Brow-... shit. 
The culminating point of this failed metaphor was Will’s ability to develop his own style, his own teaching persona.  It suited him well and the students seemed to enjoy it too.  
However, the downside of this is quite obvious:  you are alone.  In his experiences, Will had created and done just about everything (lesson plans, assessments, labs) from scratch using nothing but his own mind, some books, and the world wide web.  Now, in this new experience, it was finally refreshing to know that he had a TEAM, a group of “specialists” who he could bounce ideas off and have resources and ideas shared.  There was one thing that Will always seemed to be asked in interviews, and that was his idea of “the team;”  his answer was always the same:  they are family.  You help each other, you guide each other, you pick each other up when you are down, you exploit the strengths of all and work together to buffer out weaknesses.  Will finally had the benefit of working in a collective group that would help him grow as an educator.  As his student-teaching mentor had put on his recommendation letter “(he) is one of the most coach-able and dedicated students and teachers I have ever worked with.”

The final hours of summer counted down with Will scrambling to get his room and lesson plans situated between the frequent staff meetings that commence every school year.  Before he knew it, the first bell rang to start the year, signifying the beginning of the roller coaster that is the the life of a teacher from August through June:  there are ups, there are downs, unforeseen twists and turns, no breaks.  You may even wonder “why am I doing this?” in the middle of a ride, but when the car pulls into the station you think “that was kind of fun.”  Will had just been strapped into the front car of a big, new, exciting roller coaster and, as customary, he did not dare look around in the initial incline due to his fear of heights.  In retrospect, had he done this, he would have seen that upon reaching the track’s apex, that there was no track to guide.  
His car was set careen off the track, straight down into the fiery depths of hell....