I have just completed twenty years of employment in School District No. 27. As a recently hired teacher-on-call in late April 1995, I was dispatched to PSO Secondary for my first day of substitute teaching. I’m fairly certain I was subbing in a social studies class and can remember vividly watching the first hour of the movie “Dave” four times that day. Mercifully, PSO had a double block before and after lunch, so I did get to see the last hour of the movie once that day. Also mercifully, “Dave” was a pretty decent flick. All in all, it wasn’t a bad first day.
As I reflect on my years as an educator in this district, I have learned a great deal and have so much still to learn. If only I had some of the wisdom back then as I do now, things maybe could have gone a little smoother along the journey. Then again, many will read that sentence and wonder if I’ve gained any wisdom at all along the way.
In a similar spirit to some letters I’ve read recently on The Players’ Tribune, I thought I would write a letter to the young teacher just before he first climbed into his car to drive to 100 Mile House that day in the spring of 1995.
Dear 25 year-old Mark,
Early phone call this morning from Central Dispatch? 100 Mile, eh? Get used to it, pal. Over the next few years, you’ll apply for many jobs closer to home in Williams Lake, but your first day in School District No. 27 is a sign of things to come as you’ll be commuting at least an hour a day every day for the next nine years. The drive will make for a lot of early mornings, late evenings and less time at home, but your experiences at those schools will be worth the trip every day. Your white VW Jetta will also be a very loyal companion.
Another piece of advice on commuting a long ways to work every day. Don’t start drinking your coffee immediately upon leaving home in the morning. Sadly, your bladder will not be able to hold out that long. It will be important to choose a landmark at which it will be safe to start drinking your coffee. It will be key in helping you to avoid those embarrassing stops mere minutes before arriving at school, especially when you’re carpooling!
As for carpooling, there’s some fun to be had. In a few years, phrases like “the coasting game” and “behavioural experiments on school bus lineups” will remind a few people of some pretty funny stories.
By the way, you’re commuting ten to fifteen years early if you really wanted the most pleasurable driving experience. In 2002, satellite radio is going to come along, but you’ll just about be done your long commutes at that point. In 2004, the world will witness the advent of the podcast, but like satellite radio, it will take a few years to catch hold. You’ll have the ability to download radio or internet programs on to a device called an iPod or even on to your phone.
What is the internet? Wow, you do need some advice.
According to Wikipedia (never mind), “the internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that link several billion devices worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies”.
The technicalities really don’t matter that much. What’s most important is that you know that the internet will change the world in general and education more specifically. Along with the internet comes electronic mail, email for short. Throw in a million different types of communication known as “social media”, and you have a completely different social landscape. Tough for your small brain to imagine right now. Just know that all of it will be your biggest blessing and your biggest curse all at the same time.
In a few months, you’re going to get a call from a guy named Jack Orchard. He’s the principal at Horsefly School. He’ll sound a little gruff on the phone and even in the interview you’ll have with him the next day. Don’t be fooled by his no-nonsense manner and dry humour. You’ll learn a lot from him and his Horsefly staff over the next few years. Most of all, you’re going to learn how fun this career can be.
You’ll be teaching secondary electives and PE in your first full-time teaching job. You’ll be converting a staff shower and change room into your first office. Your desk and chair will barely fit into the room while still being able to close the door. Please remember that education has nothing to do with the size of your office. This gig you’ve signed up for is about relationships with your students and your colleagues.
Since we’re talking about offices, you’ll be very surprised to learn that you’ll be a school principal in four years. No, it won’t be closer to home, and yes, you’ll still be teaching a lot, but you’ll dive headlong into the administration world. Remember a few months ago when that UBC professor asked which of all your classmates saw themselves as future principals and vice principals. You thought those four students who raised their hands were nuts. Well, they were nuts.
Your career journey through the next twenty years will be a pretty interesting one. Each position will be extremely rewarding in its own way. No job in the world will give you more immediate feedback than being a classroom teacher … if you choose to listen. While there will be different levels of responsibility and weight with different positions that you take on, each job will be challenging in its own way. If you wanted an easy profession, you chose the wrong one.
As you move into district administrative roles, fewer people will know you as well, but more people will think they know you, and even more will make snap judgments about your character based on your decisions. Don’t let all of this dissuade you from making the right decisions for students. Probably best to develop a thick skin now.
In sixteen years, after having been a school and district administrator for twelve years, you’re going to have a chance to be a full-time classroom teacher again. You’ll be more nervous on that first day of school than for any other first day on the job before or after that. That’s right, there’s nothing like putting your money where your mouth is. It will likely be the only time your own children (minor detail, you’ll have four of them) will attend your school. Cherish that year … but please make sure your milk bag makes it back to the office at the end of lunch. The Cataline staff will have no mercy in this regard when your name is mentioned on the P.A. system seemingly every day.
Do your best to always maintain a healthy work-life balance. Maybe “life-work balance” is a better way of phrasing that. You’ve got your marriage, your children and your health to consider.
Be passionate about your vocation. There will be many bumps along the way. The general public may not always see education the way you see it this morning as you head off to 100 Mile. Don’t let the cynics get you down. You’re going to work with thousands of people over the years who passionately care about children and learning as much as you do.
High fives … I mean, fist bumps … I mean, bro hugs all around.
Enjoy the ride!
45 year-old Mark
I invite feedback and comments to any of my blog entries. As the administrator of the blog, I approve all comments before they hit the public domain. While I do not mind comments that disagree with my point of view, I will not post comments that I deem to be inappropriate, those which are personal attacks, or those which refer to specific personnel. I also will not post comments from anonymous or nicknamed sources. While one of my goals for this blog is to open a dialogue, it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved. Thanks for considering this before making a comment. – Mark