“It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.” ~Rumi
I was only at Collington Square Elementary for two weeks before contacting the local teacher union about transferring to a different school. This wasn’t what I signed up for, I constantly told myself. I had completed my student teaching at a technology magnet school in the “county”. My first few years of teaching were spent at a well-to-do private school on an island in South Carolina. My teacher education, while at a nationally renowned teaching university, had not prepared me for any of this; for the public schools of East Baltimore.
As I drove up the streets to the school for my teaching interview, the boarded up buildings should have been my first clue that I was completely out of my comfort zone; that I was completely out of my element. My second clue should have come from the fact that I was hired immediately after a 1o minute interview. At the time I thought it was because I was “that good”. Now I know it was most likely because they were desperate.
I knew this would be a challenge, but I didn’t care. I was an idealistic sociology and education major and I was ready to change the world. I’ve always liked a good challenge and I was ready to embrace this one with open arms.
We heard teachers talk at the new teacher institute about things that were happening at Collington. They talked about fights, disrespectful students, children who didn’t have shoes, incarcerated parents, an uncaring and absent administration. I still thought I could handle this.
But on the first day, I realized how wrong I was. I grew up poor, but this was POOR, in all capital letters. I wanted nothing more than to run out of the building and never look back. I wanted to find a cushy job in a place where I didn’t always have to feel like an outsider. Those of us that were new banded together like a club, while those that were “seasoned” merely put up with us expecting that many of us would not last. I was in way over my head. I was promised support. I was promised supplies. I was promised a safe environment. And while the school may have failed to provide me with any of these things, I was provided with so much more.
I have gained a kind of confidence that can only come from being in the trenches of a war. True, my classroom is made up of the tiny friends of the school and we don’t have the same struggles the older classes have, but we do have our own. I’ve learned how to solve my own problems and know full well that no one is going to solve them for me. I’ve learned how to make something out of nothing. I’ve learned how to scour back to school ads for the best deals in supplies, because I’m the one who provides them for all 25 of my students throughout the year. I’ve learned how to negotiate for so many things. I’ve learned how to ask for what I want, even though I know I won’t get it. I now know how to not feel so intimidated, or at least how to hide it. I’ve lost the feeling that I always had, the feeling that I needed everyone to like me all the time. That’s not my job. My job is to teach, inspire, encourage, create, and mold…and at Collington, I’ve learned that I’m damn good at it.
Every year I have the choice to leave and every year I make the choice to stay. I tell myself that it’s because I’m too tired or too lazy to find another job. And maybe that’s part of it. But really, I think I WANT to stay. Because at the end of the day, Collington is home and the people I work with are my family. Whether it’s the cousin I only see at random family gatherings or the sister I spend most of my days with, we are all a part of each other’s lives whether we want to be or not.
For the most part, we have each other’s backs and no mater what, we are always going to do our best to make each other shine. We have to. Because when it comes down to it, all we have is each other. It’s time to embrace that, to hold hand, walk forward, and do what we can to create the change we
want need to see.
In the five years I’ve been at Collington the school hasn’t changed. We still have the parent issues, and student issues, and administration issues. The school hasn’t changed, but I have. And I’m ready to put that change to good use next year.