It begins again, the March SOL#2019 Challenge, and while I’m up for whatever it brings, I am in a different space than I was last year. When I undertook my first every-day-in-March-all-31-of them writing adventure, I had been retired for eight months, had relocated, and was settling into the next phase—whatever that might entail. I actually credit #SOL2018 with galvanizing me to find something else to do with my time. Distance swimming, beach walking, and producing a YA book recommendation video Shelf Life weren’t enough.
Emails about education still flooded my in-box; diigo swelled with articles about dimensions of teaching, and I found new, articulate voices of education bloggers to follow. Obviously the bug had not left my system. I was in this for life. The NCTE Convention in Houston, my best in a long while, inspired me even more. Unfortunately my resumes went out unanswered or were kindly rebuffed. Despondent—that’s how I felt. I had envisioned working with aspiring teachers, imagined helping to build a teacher training program, committed to professional development without end.
But I began where I found an open door: substitute teaching. The local school district was actively seeking candidates, so I began the process. It involved accreditation, transcript submission, state testing for culturally responsive teaching, and paying a fee. I was certified, though, and have been teaching again in a very different district from the ones in which I have spent most of my career. I am learning.
Here’s what I know: I enjoy being around young people, around the enterprise of educating—even if, as a place-holder, I am often the target of those kids who’d love a break from having to hold it together. My first assignment, one I steeled myself to accept, I drove to the middle school shaking, a rush of butterflies tumbling inside. As soon as I stepped through the doors, however, after greeting two students busily conversing, calm reigned. This was familiar; I was happy. I had made the right decision. This continues to be true, even when days or classes don’t go as well as I’d like.
I talk to kids about their lives (more about this later!); they share their feelings, the books they’re reading, their likes and dislikes—sometimes they share more than I want to hear. But I’m there—to listen and to help them on their way. “It’s a tough district,” my interviewer explained. “These kids have to be tough. They’ve been through a lot.”
Yesterday when I asked a young man why he wasn’t completing the assignment, he said, “I just can’t focus right now.”
“Can you do the work at home?” I was prodding. I liked his gentle smile. He bothered no one.
“Not now. I’m living in the shelter.” Matter-of-fact—his reality, now mine to know.
The phone rang at 5:30 this morning with a teaching vacancy. I refused it and future calls for the day. I can do that; I can choose, and am lucky, to have that luxury. My reality.