The Long and Winding RoadHow a kid who hated school wound up in a classroom once again.
November 2005 I never wanted to be a teacher. The artist/writer call was strongest once I began to consider what I really wanted to be when I grew up. This phase sputtered on and off during my 30s until I finally went back to college and got my BFA in Spatial Arts in December of 1995 (with a few writing classes thrown in for good measure).
Three months later Sue and I discovered, quite unexpectedly, that we were going to be parents.
Sue had the high-paying, benefit-laden job we needed for this next phase in our lives, so she made the sacrifice. Six weeks after Noël was born she was back on the road and I assumed the role of Mr. Mom—a job I knew would be a breeze. After all, how much work can a baby be? (Just so you know, I’d never even changed a diaper prior to our daughter’s birth. Yes, I really was that clueless.)
A couple of years pass. I’m back to the graphic design/sign business once again—though this time giving presentations to clients with a toddler strapped to my back, dancing around the room to keep Noël happy because a crying kid is more distracting to clients than my odd antics—and Sue has finally had it. She’s missed first words, first steps, and so many other milestones in Noël’s life. She returned from yet another jet-setting adventure for Panasonic and announced that she wants to spend more time at home. She’s going to quit her job and become a teacher.
Looking back, it’s good to know that Sue can occasionally be clueless too. Teaching. Off every day at 3:00. Off all Summer. What a breeze! After all, how much work can teaching be?
We did some research and discovered that beginning teachers aren’t paid all that much and the benefits aren’t all that great. Then suddenly, without a thought preceding the words, I blurted: We’ll both be teachers! Sure, I reasoned, trying to convince myself as well as Sue that I really did want to become a teacher, we’ll do fine on two beginning teacher’s salaries. And think of all the free time we’ll have!
We waved a tearful goodbye to our quaint 925 square foot home in Walnut Creek and told ourselves and our friends that we’d be back in a couple of years. We loved Northern California but our best bet for realizing our new goal meant moving to San Diego temporarily—more specifically, within a ten-mile radius of Child-Care Central: the grandparents.
After months of searching prior to the move, there was only one home in the target area that we found both affordable and desirable. The stars aligned, the real estate gods blessed the dual transactions, and we achieved simultaneous escrow.
To make a long story short, after a series of quite extraordinary coincidences (the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to believe), I acquired a few Voc-Ed credentials, an emergency 30-day credential, spent a year substitute teaching, enrolled in the Teacher Education Program at San Diego State, and walked straight out of the credentialing program into the Mac Lab in January of 2002.
I’ll have to chronicle the events at some point if only to remind myself that it sure seemed like someone, somewhere, was lending a helping hand. Oh, and the part about both of us teaching? Are you kidding?! Right from the start we agreed that at least one of us would be there for Noël. Parents have to make some tough choices. When we thought teaching would mean that the three of us would all leave for our respective schools about the same time, that we’d all get out about the same time, that we’d spend our afternoons, weekends, and Summers in blissful freedom enjoying the ideal family life, two teaching positions sounded perfect. When we woke up from that fantasy and discovered the truth, we altered our plans.
Sue has her credential but her primary job is the important one for our family: she’s Mom. She subs once or twice a week, helps out in Noël’s classroom, and does the rest of those essential Mom jobs that only Moms (and former Mr. Moms) know about.
My typical day? The alarm is set to 4:15 but I seldom turn it off that late. I usually wake within 30 minutes of that evil sleep disrupter’s trigger and that’s good enough for me. Click. I”d much rather awaken naturally than try to squeeze in a few extra minutes. After morning rituals, I start the car, put it in drive, and coast down the hill to work. (Did I mention that my commute is less than a mile?) I typically arrive between 4:00 and 5:00, click one button on the browser to open all my morning Webpages, then get down to the business of the day: learning software, planning lessons, writing and uploading tutorials, and taking care of the dreadfully inevitable paperwork.
Students start arriving a little after 6:00 (yes, kids come in before school to work on their projects). I make the rest up as I go along. I do leave school by 4:00 most days but that only leaves about five hours before the eyelids close for the night. The pay and benefits may not be the best but the kids are wonderful and together we’re building a solid program. So much so that last year I taught six classes rather than the usual five.
This year I have seven classes and offer a morning tutorial for those needing additional help. Teaching is a joy and the kids, for the most part, are learning some serious skills. In the Summer I work for Digital Media Academy teaching Flash at the Joe Rindon Center in San Diego, the Governor’s School in Hartsville, South Carolina, the University of Texas, and Stanford University. That job pays very well. All together, along with Sue’s sub pay our family will make ends meet this year for the first time in our new careers.
Now I hear some district-level policy makers may try to slash the 6/5s or 7/5s positions in order to save money. If that comes to pass, I may have to make another difficult decision. I may yet write my books but this time they’ll be training manuals rather than the novels I always wanted to write. I may yet develop that Website but it too will be oriented toward teaching software rather than developing the human spirit. Financially, it might be worthwhile to be pushed out of the classroom but oh, I’d miss the kids.
In the end, what will be saved? At what cost?
I’m thrilled to be lucky enough to find new life at Valhalla. It feels as if there’s a reason I’m here. My wife was in the first graduating class in 1976. I met her three months later on her first day at college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I’d like a chance to see my daughter walk these halls. I’d like her to have a chance to follow in her mother’s footsteps and graduate from Valhalla—Class of 2015—just about the time I’d be winding up my own career here.
But, as Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince says: One never knows. What I think I want and what we really need is not always the same as what I’d planed to be. I never wanted to be a teacher. Now, I don’t want to imagine doing anything else.
February 2007 Sue wanted me to start sleeping in more so the alarm’s set to 4:25 now. (Unbelievably, she didn’t feel that was much of a compromise.) And she wanted me to spend less time at work so I rarely stay after 3:30 anymore. Unless there’s a meeting, or grades, or, well, you get the idea.
So, if I sleep till the alarm shatters my tranquility (and you know how I hate it when that happens) and leave school at 3:30, I only spend 10.5 hours at work now. (What a slacker I’m becoming!) Also, cutting back to 6 classes this year meant that I had to stop teaching Tech Fundamentals. (Oh darn, no more Microsoft Office lessons!) Lastly, this Summer I’m just teaching at Stanford and UC San Diego so the family can take a long road trip to Yellowstone. Can’t wait to give the new Rebel XTi a workout!
January 2009 Not that I really think you care about my sleep habits. The alarm somehow crept back to 4:00 but I scoot outta here at 3:30 most afternoons. Still have the same class load. I’ve taken a leave from the DMA summer gig to focus on writing tutorials for the kids and recharging my batteries.
Holy Moly! I just read this for the first time in years. We need one more update…
April 2015 The Little Prince was right! One never knows. The little girl in the original story is now 18, set to graduate, and anxious move on to Sonoma State. I got my wish and watched her blossom over the past four years here at Valhalla. Even better, she and I have remained best buds throughout her adolescence. Epic win! I won’t, however, be wrapping up my own career anytime soon. I’m having way too much fun to even think of the R-word.
What? You’re still here?
Okay, for those of you who actually read this rambling screed, here’s a homework assignment for a class I took in the Summer of 2002 (teachers have to go to school too). The assignment? My life in three minutes or less.
I didn’t see how talking for 180 seconds would work so I spent the weekend scanning old photos and getting the story straight. Had to cut the early years (and a lot more) to fit in the essentials. The movie runs 2:56, starts the day I left for college at 18, and ends, oh, sometime just before the Summer of 2002. Special thanks to Jim Messina and Poco for granting permission to use their song, Follow Your Dreams.
Because people always ask why I use this image as my avatar…
I like to use and promote student work in public. Back in 2008 (or thereabouts), I was working at my desk when a student snuck up and yelled, “Skocko!” He was poised with a camera, took the shot when I reacted, and then begged me not to look at his screen as he worked on it over the next few days.
Since Bassam was a good kid who’d never given me any grief, I resisted the urge to look even though everyone else in the class knew what was going on—and were quite amused by it.
At the unveiling, with the whole class gathered around Bassam’s computer, I laughed along with the rest of the kids when he opened the file. It was the perfect prank and I continue to use the image as a reminder of that day.