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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back on the West Coast

After scrounging for job offers for weeks (and nearly prepared to move to South America), I finally stumbled into four interviews in the first week of August. Two in Oakland and two in the Seattle area.

In the end, I accepted a job in the Highline School District, which is just barely south of Seattle. The school I work at sits right next to the Sea-Tac airport. I chose this school because I was excited by their decision-making model (consensus), its small staff and student body (a similar organization to the school I worked at in the Bronx), its relationship with the Coalition for Essential Schools, and my familiarity with the student population (the student body is very similar to the group of students I taught with when I worked at Renton High School, also just south of Seattle, between 2007-2009). We serve among the most diverse communities in the United States (and are very near the most diverse zip code in the US). My students' backgrounds include Mexican, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Somalian, Samoan, Eritrean, Filipino, West African (mostly Liberian), Turkish, Bosnian, and a few blacks and whites whose families have been in the States for some time.

A few things have struck me about my current school thus far. First, this is the first time I've entered a district that had a curriculum ready for me to use - and it's a pretty good curriculum. It's for ninth-grade language arts, includes pre and post-assessments, lessons and texts to choose from, outcomes and indicators, and generally useful information regarding its purpose. Unfortunately, the same is not true for the world history course I'm teaching.

In comparison to my time in New York (a school of nearly the same size and challenges), I'm surprised by my current school's dearth of administrative personnel. We have a single principal (who is also new to the school), two secretaries, and one counselor. I will be sincerely impressed if our principal finds time to do any instructional leadership at all. On the other hand, we have at least a handful of veteran teachers who seem to really know their stuff, understand the philosophy behind small schools outlined by Deborah Meier (The Power of Their Ideas is in practically every room of the school), and are committed to a progressive education that gives agency to our students.

Despite entering my sixth year of teaching, I find myself fighting to keep my head above water once again. I've been a new teacher five out of the last six years, and that's taught me a few things. I know not to stress as much over lack of preparation (because you can never be fully prepared); I know not to try to plan anything until you have time to really talk with your new colleagues (as most of it will end up in the garbage); I know how to manage a classroom and relate with students. In a sense, I know how to be a new teacher, but that doesn't relieve me from having to: establish a positive reputation within the school community, learn new systems, learn a new culture, get to know new colleagues, and effectively plan new courses of instruction. I am, once again, struggling to figure things out. Fingers crossed that this struggle makes me stronger and more effective every year.

12 comments:

  1. Good luck in your new school. I admire your ability to move around at a moment's notice.

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  2. Welcome back to the Left Coast. A friend who just left Seattle SD after a couple of truly nasty years just started at Highline this Fall. She said the difference was remarkable in how teachers and staff were treated. At orientation, the warmth was such a contrast with her memory of Seattle's orientation made her want to cry, she was so happy.

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  3. I'm glad you found what looks like a student/teacher friendly environment - they do go together.

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  4. Good luck, James. We'll miss you over on the East Coast but this job and school sounds like a perfect match for you. And Seattle is so beautiful. Please keep in touch and keep blogging.

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  5. Good luck, James, it does sound like the right environment for you. Keep up the good fight.

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  6. Congrats on the new job James! Sounds like a great fit for you.

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  7. You're an ace at this; I have no doubt that you'll find your groove by the end of the week. Keep doing the beautiful work you do and you're golden.

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  8. I feel like I will be like you for a while, a new teacher every year until I find my "home" school. I'm learning a lot on the search though. I wish you best of luck at your new school. I'm sure you'll learn and grow a lot and I look forward to reading your stories and comments from the west side!

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  9. I just can't understand the missing curriculum, but as you say, it's common. To expect teachers to have the time to create everything from scratch seems absurd. Sure, teachers will want to put their own spin on things, and that shouldn't be discouraged, but give people a starting point. How can you criticize if you don't do your job as a district to provide decent resources for those that you employ?

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  10. Thanks for the kind and intelligent comments everyone. Apologies for not blogging more. I've been treading water moving and starting at a new school again. Will try to get back to posting with regularity soon.

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  11. Glad you're still teaching and have found a place where you're truly welcome. Look forward to your posts.

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  12. Hey Mr. Boutin

    Welcome back to Puget Sound. Evergreen is very fortunate to have a guy of your caliber there.

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