Where it all began

Being first a student for seventeen years now a teacher for ten, I’ve been in and around school for fairly long time. Call me crazy, but I wanted to dedicate a post to my first memories, and feelings, of formalized schooling. Two distinct memories come to mind.

Clark Elementary School

The first was my first full year of kindergarten and Clark Elementary School. It was a neighborhood school not far from where I lived at the time. The kindergarten students were scheduled to attend only half of the standard school day. My cohort came in around noon and stayed until 2:30 pm. My mom worked long hours and couldn’t afford to take the day off work to take me into school, so my caregiver dropped me on the first day. And I was off.

I don’t remember a lot from kindergarten. I don’t remember my teacher’s name, but it may have been Ms. Wiley. Not sure. My first solid memories involve me playing house in the back of the room, memorizing my ABCs by connecting small cubes together, and saying “president” instead of “present” when the teacher called my name for attendance. On the first day, I recall sitting at the edge of a table crowded with 5th and 6th graders during lunch, not knowing where I belonged. I don’t know how I ended up there because soon after an adult redirected me back to my classroom where all my classmates were.

Lafayette Contemporary Academy

The second memory comes from first grade at Lafayette Contemporary Academy. Unlike my kindergarten school, LCA was not a neighborhood school. In fact, I took the school bus an hour each way. The school was on the east side of Cleveland and I lived on the west side. I now know that it was a Magnet School. I’ve also learned that it has been demolished.

I attended LCA up until fifth grade. I loved it. There are so many awesome memories that come to mind during those early years of my life. But this is a post about firsts, and I’ll never forget my very first day. I don’t remember the morning bus ride being all that eventful, but it was different story when I arrived at school on that first day. What happened?

I cried. A lot.

I distinctively remember my first grade teacher, Ms. Malloy, wearing a white dress with large pink flowers consoling me the morning of the first day. She was so nice. (She ended up being my fourth grade teacher too.) I attribute my waterworks to being so far away from home around strangers in a place, and neighborhood, that I knew absolutely nothing about. Like many kids that age, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and scared.

There you have it, my first memories of school. What did this post accomplish, I’m not sure yet. But it was fun to go back to where it all began for a little while.

And now that I think about it, my confusion in kindergarten and vulnerability in first grade do seem to be good analogies for my entire life. All is not lost. Cheers.




New year, new school, new me


The next chapter of my career begins next week.

I’ll be teaching at a new school.

After a rewarding ten year tenure at my previous school, I made the decision to start anew. The move needed to happen for several reasons, both personal and professional. Moving on wasn’t something that hit me one day when I woke up. It was a slow, revealing process that took me over a year to fully accept. For anyone that’s been at a school for that long, you understand how bittersweet it can be to relocate. I left home.

I figured I would take some time to reflect in my transition. It might not happen again for a long time. First, the interview process.

I underestimated how much I would learn about myself. Over the course of four interviews and three demo lessons, I actually became a better teacher. I was presented with questions that I, being on several interview teams, was accustomed to asking candidates. I was asked to respond to the question all math teachers face. I was asked to share the percentage of my lessons that I consider to have a low floor and high ceiling. I was prompted about the nonnegotiable aspects of my classroom. I even experienced a progressive interview that consisted of pitching a course Shark Tank style, round robin meetings with several teachers, and a written reflection of the whole process. This really opened my eyes to what an interview can be.

All of the interviews put me in a position to think deeply about myself and my core values as a teacher. I do this regularly, but not in a way that forces me to formally present it to a stranger. In the moment, I discovered personal feelings and ideas about teaching that I wasn’t aware that I had. Who I am kidding, it was only my fourth job interview…ever.

I was fairly picky about my new school. Jokingly, a member of the interview team at my new school mentioned that it seemed like I was interviewing them. Well, I knew what I wanted. I knew that once I was in, I was in for the long term. I understood the level of commitment that I was making to myself and my new school – and I didn’t take that lightly. I wanted to be sure that my new home was the best place for my abilities and future contributions.

I wore so many different hats at my previous school (it was a small school by traditional standards). I created and maintained our GAFE suite and school website while supervising many after school activities including the intramural sports program, bicycle club, robotics team, tech team, among others. I was on several professional development committees and the LPP team. Not to mention the many other short-term commitments that came up that I volunteered to spearhead. All and all, I was considered a lead member of the staff, I played a central role.

Why do I bring all this up? What does it mean? It means that after securing my position in the spring, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this summer pondering the rare opportunity that I now have. I’ve been coming to grips with the overwhelming idea of reestablishing myself as a teacher, teacher leader, and stakeholder. No one knows me. I don’t know the systems and structures to which I’ll be adapting. I don’t have seniority. No one cares about my history. I’m at zero. I’m just the new guy that teaches math.

And that is precisely why this dramatic change will elevate my career. I have the rare opportunity to rethink my practice from a rookie’s perspective. Surely there will be a period of adjustment. — the transition has already proved to be challenging in many ways. But, at the same time, my classroom will be as fresh as it’s ever going to be. I can reevaluate my assumptions. The bonds I make with students, colleagues, and the overall school community will be rooted in how I build my new reputation. I’m painting on an blank canvas.

Looked at in a certain light, I’m a new teacher again…except one with 10 years of experience to guide me. This blank slate provides me with a unique advantage over my development – one that I hope allows me to contribute greatly to my new settings. I hope this perspective enables me to invigorate to my classroom and my school. Plus — talk about timing — because luckily I’m going to be chronicling the first year of my adventures at my new school for the day in the life of a teacher book project.

Here’s to writing the next chapter.


Note: My new school referenced my blog. I am led to believe that it played a role in the hiring process.