I only just turned twenty-seven and seem to be already experiencing a midlife crisis of sorts. (Okay - so maybe it's not really a midlife crisis, but it's definitely a tough place to be). The catalyst of this crisis is the prospect of having to make a HUGE decision about where I take my life in the next three to five years.
On the one hand I have a job offer from what seems like an amazing school to work at in New York City. I've had the opportunity to spend an entire day observing the school and the teachers, talking to the administration, and tutoring the students. There are only two administrators, and they both seem to really get education. They're not former TFAers turned teacher managers or overly ambitious new school reform types. They've both put years into the classroom and believe the school setup they've come up with is a decent, work-in-progress way to meet the needs of some students in an extremely challenging situation in the South Bronx.
A quick note for those unfamiliar with NYC public schools: For quite a while now, NYC has been dismantling its comprehensive high schools in favor of small schools. Additionally, each school has been given a relatively large degree of autonomy in the way it sets up its schedule, the way it hires teachers, and the way it works with students. The schools are essentially told, "Do what you will with your structure, teachers, and courses; it's the test scores we're going to hold you accountable for." And then each school is given a grade (A, B, C, D, or F) based on how it meets certain criteria. At least this is what I understand about NYC so far. I'm certainly not an expert, and if anyone reading from NYC wants to correct or clarify for me, that'd be great.
So the job offer in NYC is extremely exciting. I've been promised I would only be teaching one prep (something almost unheard of in the other schools I've worked at - not so much the teaching of one prep, but being promised that I'd have one prep this early in the summer). I would teach four classes a day (an hour each), and I would have the rest of the day to grade and plan with colleagues. The school is small (11 staff members this year and 20 staff members this coming year) and is housed in an older comprehensive high school with four other schools (I believe). Although I wouldn't have my own classroom (downside, especially for effective classroom management), I would be given multiple opportunities to take leadership positions when it comes to curriculum development, work with instructional strategies, and data tracking. I was also promised that I would be supported in my efforts to achieve National Board Certification and provided financial assistance to earn credits toward ESL certification, including an online course from Harvard that's already been paid for. Additionally, the administrators made a big deal about opportunities for future leadership and advancement within the school network (the school is affiliated with a broader network of schools). Most importantly, the two administrators were very open and honest about their budget, how they intend to allocate their funds, what their hiring/management philosophy is, and acted very much like real people (not the edudrones you run into in DCPS).
ON THE OTHER HAND.......
I have an interview for the position I held in Seattle before I came to DCPS tomorrow evening. The position in Seattle is in a traditional comprehensive high school, which is largely impeded from making significant and meaningful changes to school structure, teacher quality, and instructional practice by the cumbersome nature of the WEA (the NEA's affiliate in Washington state) and the fear of traditional LEAs to make meaningful change in education for fear of public backlash (in this country, we like to punish superintendents for trying new things, not reward them). As a result, I would return to an environment where about half of the teachers are motivated to grow and do great things in the classroom and the other half couldn't care less because their teaching job is a 9-5 deal that provides them with a decent salary and nice benefits.
On the pro side, in Seattle I could probably get some financial assistance for earning my National Boards, and I would definitely receive the support of a significant number of staff who'd already gone through the process. In addition, Washington State provides teachers in schools that have more than 50% of their students on free-and-reduced lunch with a $10k stipend per year for holding National Boards Certification, which I think is excellent because it's a real move toward promoting excellence in the profession. Additionally, I think I could bring a lot of great things to my former school. My time in DCPS made me a much better teacher than when I left Seattle. Despite working with abusive and incompetent administrators, I was exposed to ideas and practices that fundamentally altered the way I thought about increasing academic rigor in the classroom, effective curriculum development, instruction, and assessment - especially in the social studies content area. For example, when I taught in Seattle, I would never have dreamed that I could ask the typical sophomore world history student to read portions of Adam Smith's, The Wealth of Nations, and get anything out of it. In DC, I learned to do that effectively with students who (I think) were collectively on a lower reading level than the students I taught in Seattle. As a result, were I to the take the job in Seattle, I would aspire to share many of the things I learned in DC and take on a significant leadership role in helping to hold students to much higher academic expectations. I think the teachers at that school want to do that, they just aren't sure how or trust that it's possible (or at least that's how I felt when I was there).
Of course, deciding where I want to go depends on more than just my professional aspirations. The Pacific Northwest is an absolutely gorgeous place to live and make a life for oneself. But New York City has all the opportunities in the world (and I have a pretty sweet apartment lined up for myself in Manhattan just south of Central Park). But I'm tired of inner-city politics and bullshit, and I love to run outside and visit the mountains and play soccer on an open field. But, like every other ambitious young person in the US, I've always wanted to live in NYC, and I'm not sure if I can really pass up an opportunity to live in Manhattan.
But there are deeper issues at play here. I've been having a massive internal battle over how important the concept of 'home' and 'community' are to me and how important 'adventure' and 'sucking the marrow out of life' are to me for a few years now. I'm not sure how entirely contradictory they have to be, but taken to their extremes, they certainly lead to different lifestyles. A move to NYC represents a continuation on my path of adventure and the fulfillment of my ongoing wanderlust. A move to Seattle would represent a move in the opposite direction, toward creating a home and seriously involving myself in a community (as I've seen Seattle as a possible place for the longterm for a little while now).
The other question is whether I'm really emotionally ready to start all over in NYC again. I don't like that this is a realistic concern (largely because it makes me worry that a move to Seattle might really just be a move to safety), but starting your life over again in a whole new place without knowing anybody takes a huge toll (I've done it twice in the past three years). It requires that you create a whole new social group, adopt a whole new set of routines, and find a whole new way to take ownership in the areas of your life that are most important (e.g. job, community, local politics).
Anyway, I've been agonizing over this decision nonstop for about a week now, and I'm sick of it. I'd almost like to just flip a coin and get it over with. Maybe, if I'm lucky, Seattle won't offer me the job, and then I'll know exactly what to do. Leaning NYC right now, but twenty-four hours ago I was leaning Seattle. Looking forward to getting this decision over with.