The Teaching Rollercoaster

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Only 1 week into teaching, I can already attest to the fact that the rumors are true: Teaching is an emotional rollercoaster.

I haven’t even met any kids yet, and I’ve already climbed into the rail car and taken a few dips and turns! Just in-service was enough to get me pumped up and then anxious; excited and then stressed out at the mountain of things I have to do before next week. My To Do list is currently five pages single-spaced, and every day I am finding out about more things I have to do that I didn’t even know to ask about (like a Word Wall. Apparently every teacher – even math teachers like me – are required to have a “Word Wall” in their classrooms. I only know this because I overheard a conversation – who was going to tell me?!).

But at the end of the day – even the Alexander Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days – I am still glad I am here at not in corporate.

I am still sure this was the right decision. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be good. In corporate, all of the vision casting was elaborate and verbose, but it never came to fruition; it was just rhetoric and word fluff from the top down that took no input from the lower ranks. They had no heart; no pure intent behind the syrupy words.

But here in my school district, it’s evident that the Superintendent at least – and also my direct Principal – genuinely believe in the shared vision. They legitimately took input and feedback from all stakeholders – parents, students, teacher and the community – to determine and develop our shared mission, values and purpose. They are passionate and authentic and bought in.

It’s not a perfect district (people are, after all, messy), but I can tell that they truly believe in empowering teachers and students (even if they’re not very good at equipping new teachers like myself). They encourage thoughtful challenge of the status quo.

I really think this is where I belong. I really think I finally found a fit. It won’t be perfect, but I think God has a purpose for me here, and I am excited to walk forward into this first school year as a teacher.

Authentically Aurora

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Back to School – Part 3

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I just got an email from my principal.

Finally.

It was addressed to me and one other teacher. I expected it to be welcoming me to the school and giving me some good information for what to expect next week. Instead, it says simply:

“Since you guys have big rooms,  we are going to use your rooms for rotations the first week back to school.  We will need a functioning projector. “

That was all.

The good news: Apparently I have a big classroom.

The bad news: I don’t yet know which classroom is mine, what rotations she’s talking about, or whether or not my room has a projector, much less how how to use it.

I’d forgotten how much it stinks to be the new person.

Authentically Aurora

Back to School – Part 2

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Thanks to my perseverance, I finally got issued my district email address a few weeks early. I’ve hungrily dug into all of the shared files, desperately trying to find out if there are already lesson plans in place or if I need to be spending my last weeks of summer developing a syllabus, worksheets, homework, quizzes and tests for the year. I don’t want my first six weeks to be a mess of chaotic franticness.

All summer long, I’ve been checking the district website hoping they’d update the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. They finally did a couple weeks ago, so I found out my first day of teacher inservice would be Thursday, August 10th. I’ve had it in my calendar ever since.

To make the most of my last week of summer, Seth and I planned a romantic day trip for Monday, August 7th, and I have a specialist doctor’s appointment scheduled for Tuesday the 8th. I had to schedule the appointment two months in advance, so I was relieved they were able to get me in before school started.

Then yesterday, I checked my district email account.

The email account I only have because I’ve been bothering IT all summer long.

The email account I’m not supposed to have yet and that no one has advised me to be checking yet this summer.

I had an email “reminding” me of MANDATORY TRAINING for new teachers on August 7-8.

Note that this email was not sent to my personal email from my resume. I did not receive a call from my principal or administration. I never heard anything about this mandatory training from the HR department. The only reason I found out about it was because I had a district email address that I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE YET AND ONLY HAVE BECAUSE OF MY PROACTIVITY!!!

Seth and I cancelled our romantic day trip. He’s out $50 for tickets we already bought.

I postponed my specialist doctor’s appointment for another two months. Now I’ll have to use a precious vacation day to go to my appointment.

And I will responsibly show up for this mandatory training I only know about because I am proactive, responsible and on top of things when the rest of the school system is not.

I’m so glad I left Corporate America to escape bureaucracy.

Authentically Aurora

Back to School – Part 1

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I knew there was going to be a steep learning curve entering the world of education as a first-year teacher.

Half the people I told about my new job – rather than congratulating me – offered their condolences. That made me just all the more determined to love teaching and the world of education. But so far, I am staring to see their point (much as I am loathe to admit it).

I got hired back in April. Since then, I’ve been asking my principal, the HR department, my math specialist co-teacher and the IT department what I need to be doing to prepare for the school year. I’ve had three months to do professional development, lesson planning and all manner of things to get ready for my first year as a teacher. Here’s the feedback I’ve gotten.

From my principal: “You’re way ahead of the game. Just relax. We don’t do most of our hiring until July.”

From HR: “Ask your principal.”

From my co-teacher: “Here are a bunch of links. But you won’t be able to access any of them until you have a district email address.”

From IT: “Sorry, we don’t issue new teacher email addresses until the week before school starts.”

I feel like I’m back in the world of Corporate.

Authentically Aurora

A Job from Jehovah-Jireh (Part 5)

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I woke up in the pitch black of early morning on the day of the Kl*** ISD career fair. I pulled on a blazer over my white blouse and applied mascara to my sleepy eyes. Why am I putting myself through this? I already have a job offer. But I climbed into my little blue Beemer and drove north toward my childhood home.

Having attended three teaching career fairs at that point, I felt like I knew what to expect, but I was surprised when I pulled into the high school parking lot and saw hundreds of people marching toward the entrance like little ants in business suits. There were definitely over a thousand people in attendance – my largest career fair yet.

I waited in line for 45 minutes just to get in the front door and check in at registration. Then I waited in line at each of five junior high booths just to hand in my resume and ask if they had open math positions (three did; two did not). Of the three with math openings, one was my alma mater. That interview went very well, with one of the assistant principals coming over to sit in on my interview with another staff member because it looked like we were having so much fun.

They loved that I’m a former Warrior and spent half of my interview recounting how many of their current staff are alums, asking me if I knew one teacher or another. It turned out that I knew the head of their math department – a male teacher whose first year of teaching was my 8th grade year. He helped out with the math club when I was a student, and – in the words of the assistant principal – “he’d be thrilled to have you on his team!”

My alma mater wasn’t conducting second round interviews until one week later, and when I explained the fact that I had to make a decision about my Land*** offer by Monday, they nodded in understanding. “Well, you’ll definitely be getting a call back, but we can’t push up the timeline, so it’s up to you if you want to take the offer in hand or hold off and come to our final round interview.”

I walked away feeling pretty confident in my decision. Although some people might like working in their former junior high school, to me it felt a bit odd, like I was moving backwards in life to a place where I spent my most awkward years. Still further, even if I went to final round interviews, there was no guarantee I’d get the job. I would take the offer from Land*** and forgo further interviews with my alma mater.

My second of three interviews with junior highs that morning went fine but not great. The interviewer was a young math teacher who was not warm and friendly but also not cold and distant; she was just going through the motions, and the interview felt somewhat rote. I wrote off the rote interview and moved on to my last interview of the day: an open math teacher position at Ul**** Intermediate.

Petite Firecracker.jpgI liked the principal from the moment I shook her hand. A petite blonde with a pixie cut and energetic personality, the principal herself was the one to interview me. Like me, she had entered the world of education after working in industry, and we hit it off immediately. She loved all of my responses to her interview questions, and before long, we were going off script. “You know,” she began, “with your engineering background and creative interests, I’m actually thinking you would be a great fit for our new robotics program. This will be our first year to implement robotics at Ul****, and it will just be one class period, but would you be interested in teaching one class of robotics as well as math?”

I was ecstatic. What a fun opportunity! To get to teach a brand new program and make it my own, combining my love of math with hands-on creativity? It sounded perfect, especially when I remembered that Seth had taken 2nd place at a national robotics competition in college. I knew he would love to be a guest speaker and come help the kids with their projects.

When our time was up, the principal told me that her one concern – my heart sank – was “that I’ll lose you to another school.”

Relieved, I smiled; then laughed and added, “Funny you should mention that…” I explained about the offer from Land*** and that I needed to give them an answer by Monday.

“I was afraid of that,” she said with what I’d come to learn was her usual intensity. She leaned forward, elbows on the desk. “You’re a catch, Aurora. And I think you know that. You’d be an asset to any school you choose – and you can have your pick of districts. What you need to decide is what you want. Do you want to be at – ” she named my alma mater “- where all the kids are upper middle class? Or do you want to be at Land*** and a Title I school?”

Leslie explained to me that Ul**** has a mix of students from all walks of life. Some students came from mansions, others live on farmland, and still others come to school from trailer parks across the tracks. “It’s a mix, and that’s part of what I love about this school.” She added that she wasn’t sure she could get me an offer by Monday, but she was going to try.

“There are hundreds of people here,” she told me, “And you’re the only one I’ve wanted to give an offer to on the spot. I want you, but I don’t have an official offer to give yet. But I can tell you that it is coming – if not by Monday, then definitely by Tuesday.”

I thanked Leslie for her candor and let her know the feeling was mutual. “I know having good administration is absolutely key, and I think I would really enjoy working for you.”

Leslie shook my hand, told me we’d be in touch, and then – on my way out to my car – my phone rang. It was Leslie, asking if I was still around to meet the district’s Head of HR. I turned back around and met up with Leslie and the Head of Human Resources who reassured me that working for Leslie would be a dream job and that he could personally back the fact that an offer would be in my hands by Tuesday if not Monday. “You must be quite a catch for Leslie to be so impressed by you and willing to give you an offer on the spot!”

True to their word, I had an offer on Monday afternoon. So that Monday – April 3, my last day of an eight-year career in oil & gas – I sat in a corporate conference room, called Land*** to turn down their offer, and called Leslie to accept her offer as a 7th grade Pre-AP Math teacher for the 2017-2018 school year.

Mere hours later, I walked out of that corporate skyscraper for the last time ever. I walked out into the sunlight, never unemployed for a single moment, and marveled at the perfection of God’s timing. Our omniscient, omnipotent God is so intimate and compassionate toward His creation. He truly is Jehovah-Jireh: God our Provider.

Authentically Aurora

Seeking my “Timothy” (Part 4)

Phone Interview

At the very end of March, going into my last weekend of being employed in oil & gas procurement, I had one job offer teaching 8th grade math at Land*** and another interview scheduled with a second S***** Branch junior high school. Having agreed to give an answer to the Land*** principal by Monday, April 3rd (which happened to be my last day of work), I went into hyperdrive.

I called both W***er junior highs (where Seth hoped I would teach out in the country), called ******* Christian High School (where Dani had given me an “in” with the principal), and I reached out to the other S***** Branch junior high to try to bump up my interview with them. I wanted to keep all my options open and make the best decision possible.

I really liked Land*** initially, enjoying my interactions with the assistant principal at the job fair and loving my interview with the principal and two of the other teachers on the interview panel. But the third teacher – the head of the math department and my possible partner teacher – seemed like she would be very unpleasant to work with, and I suspected she was the reason the position was open. Another point of consideration was the fact that the school was very old, rundown and decrepit (as well as a Title I school). I felt badly counting this against Land***, but if I was honest, I figured it would be a smoother transition into teaching without these added barriers to success.

After spending most of my Thursday afternoon calling around to touch base with each of my other open teaching opportunities, I was surprised when the end of Friday came and I hadn’t heard back from either of the W***er junior highs or the other S***** Branch school. The only school that made any effort over the 48 hour period was ******* Christian High School, where a kind administrative assistant spent a significant amount of time speaking with me, praying with me, and setting up a phone interview with their principal for Friday afternoon.

I felt loved, appreciated and encouraged through my interactions with ******* Christian High School, which just stirred up my excitement about the possibility of teaching at a private school where I could openly share my faith with my students and be supported by other teachers and administration who shared my beliefs and values. My interview with the principal went well, although he was more stilted and formal than I expected, not coming off over the phone as warm and friendly as either his assistant or the principal of Land***.

Especially after my God-orchestrated meeting with Dani, I half expected to be a shoe-in to this private Christian school, but the principal’s first comment to me during my phone interview was, “So, looking at your resume… you don’t have any teaching experience?”

Flustered, I pointed out that – as outlined in my resume – I spent one semester volunteering to teach art at an after school program, another semester coaching a math club, three years teaching Sunday school at church, and had been substitute teaching since October. “But you are correct that I don’t have any formal, full-time teaching experience.”

He asked about what math courses I took in college, asked if I’d be competent and comfortable teaching calculus, and also mentioned a new engineering program with hands-on projects that he would expect me to be able to teach if I were hired. He asked about my beliefs and faith background; my testimony; why I wanted to teach. I explained that I believe everyone needs a Barnabas and a Timothy. The Apostle Paul had a mentor in Barnabas and a mentee in Timothy, and I believe each of us as Christians should follow suit. I am currently in a women’s mentoring program at church where I am poured into by older women, but as of now, I’m still looking for my “Timothy”, and I would view my students as my ministry and collective “Timothy”.

Overall, the ******* Christian principal seemed satisfied with my answers, adding near the end, “This has been helpful for me. Anyone can write the right answers on their application, but hearing you explain your answers over the phone gives me a better feel for who you are.” He agreed to give me an answer by Monday morning so that I could make a decision about Land***, and by the end of the day Friday, I had decided that if ******* Christian offered me a job, I would take it, but otherwise, I was content to teach at Land***.

With a job offer in hand – and potentially another one coming Monday – I was emotionally checked out from continuing to interview and job search, but my mom called me Friday night to make sure I was still planning on attending the Kl*** ISD career fair the next morning. I personally attended K-12 in Kl*** ISD, and my parents were excited about the possibility of having me teach in the suburbs near where they still live.

“You could move in with us to help you save on rent,” my mom offered, but we both know that would be detrimental to our otherwise loving relationship, and I told her so. “Well, the house next door is for sale,” she suggested as an alternative. “You could move in next door to us, and that way you wouldn’t have to see us every day.”

I knew she meant well, but the more we talked, the less I wanted to attend the Kl*** ISD career fair the next morning. I felt like my mom was pushing it on me, and I tend to buck when I sense something being forced on me. But, partly to keep the peace and partly to finish strong and explore every possible teaching opportunity, I planned to wake up early the next morning to attend one last career fair.

Authentically Aurora

Discernment Required (Part 3)

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On March 23rd, I’d attended the S**** Branch career fair, but at the time I was dealing with all of my anxiety over my three H*****y Public Schools interviews, I still hadn’t heard anything at all from the S**** Branch schools I’d visited at their career fair.

Of the eight junior high schools in S**** Branch, there were two schools that seemed like the best fit for me. I enjoyed the administrators I’d met at their career fair booths, they had math teaching openings, and I felt like I’d be a natural fit in the culture of these two schools. But I hadn’t heard anything back…

…until Monday, the day after Dani prayed with me at church. I’d just turned down the three H*****y interviews when my phone rang, and it was the principal of one of my two favorite S**** Branch schools. They wanted me to interview on Wednesday, and I was ecstatic.

A few hours later, my phone rang again, and it was the principal of the other S**** Branch school I’d hoped to hear from. We scheduled an interview for the following weekend. Of the eight schools in that district, there were two I liked, and those are the exact two schools who offered me interviews. Amazing. But I didn’t get those two interview opportunities until after God convinced me to operate by faith, turning down the H*****y interviews and trusting Him to provide.

He’s teaching me a lot about faith these days; releasing control and trusting Him rather than trying to do everything in my own power. In this season of life, God is clearly teaching me about the futility of my own efforts and that I should instead declare and embrace and celebrate my dependence on Him! Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4).

That Wednesday, I went to Land*** to interview, and – short version – it went great. I loved the principal, a fun-loving, high-energy man in his late 40s. Two of the other teachers on the interview panel were equally fun and engaging. We laughed and talked for nearly an hour, and I felt like I fit right in. After a while, it stopped feeling like an interview and just seemed like a conversation with new friends.

But near the end of our time together, a third teacher came in. This heavyset middle-aged woman shuffled in with a grumpy look on her face and an irritable demeanor. She was introduced to me as the head of the math department and the woman who would be my partner teacher if I took the open position as Land***’s new 8th grade math teacher. She only asked me one question during the interview: “If you had an issue with someone on staff – ” she laughed unhappily, “- let’s be honest, if you had a problem with ME – how would you handle that?”

Somewhat taken aback by the question and her tone, I explained that I think open communication is key and that I would want to sit down and talk through the issue with her directly, making sure she felt heard and that we both had an opportunity to explain ourselves. I’d asked the principal earlier in the interview the reason the position was open, and he said evasively that the prior teacher had decided Land*** wasn’t a good fit. After meeting the math chair, I suspected it had something to do with this woman.

At the end of the interview, the principal walked me out, shaking my hand and telling me pointedly, “You did great in there.” He gave me a knowing look and said, “I know you’d be a great asset to our team. My assistant principal who spoke with you at the career fair said you were an amazing candidate, and you proved her right today. We’ll be in touch. You can expect to hear from me by the end of the week.”

But he didn’t make me wait until the end of the week. I was still working in corporate procurement at the time, having given my two weeks’ notice but not yet reached my last day of April 3rd. So when the Land*** principal called me a few hours later, my phone was on silent, and I missed the call. He left me a simple voice message asking me to call him back. Since I didn’t get the message until after 5pm, I decided to wait to call until the next morning during work hours, but when I logged into my email the next morning around 7:30am, I already had a follow-up email from the principal. “Good morning! I wanted to let you know that the interview committee thoroughly enjoyed visiting with you yesterday. Can you please call me regarding the position at your earliest convenience?”

Surprised at his persistence, I called as soon as I finished my morning meetings, stepping into a private conference room about 9am. “Hi, this is Aurora. I’m returning your call about the 8th grade math position at Land***.”

“Aurora! Great to hear from you!” The principal’s magnetic personality filtered across the phone line. “I just wanted to let you know that we all agreed yesterday that with all the interviews we’ve done, you were the bright shining star that clearly stood out from the rest. There was no competition. We know that you would be an amazing addition to our team here at Land***!”

“Wow, thank you so much! That’s great to hear,” I replied with a smile.

“Yes, we are excited about the possibility of having you join our team,” he added, pausing for me to reply.

“Thanks. The feeling is mutual. I really enjoyed meeting you guys yesterday. It was a great conversation.”

“So…” the principal paused, seeming to be confused at my response. “To be clear, I’m calling to make you a job offer.”

“Thanks,” I said again. I wasn’t sure what he expected me to say. I appreciated the glowing review, reiterated again and again, but I was waiting for him to lead us into an “offer” conversation. I’ve worked in procurement for eight years, and I expected him to outline the scope of the offer.

We were both dancing around the offer at hand, and our circular conversation started to get stilted and awkward. I didn’t understand why the principal wasn’t directing the conversation toward outlining my proposed salary, start date, professional development I’d be expected to do over the summer, benefits information and the like.

“So…” the principal hesitated, his initial enthusiasm starting to fizzle at the sudden awkwardness of the conversation. “Do you accept?” he asked finally.

I laughed uncomfortably. “Accept what? We haven’t outlined the terms of the offer.”

“Um… what do you mean?” he seemed confused that there was more to be said than just “I’m making you an offer of employment at my school. Do you accept?”.

“I mean, we haven’t discussed salary and benefits. I don’t know the scope of the role and the associated terms.”

“Salary and benefits are public information and can be found on the district website,” he told me, seeming exasperated and perturbed by the direction of the conversation. Was he second-guessing offering me the job? I really liked the principal initially, but I was shocked by what I viewed as his lack of professionalism.

“Okay, great. I’ll have to take a look at that,” I told him, assuming he understood this meant I needed some time to review the district website, but he pressed me again, “So… do you accept?”

I laughed uncomfortably again. “Well, I’d like some time to review the district website. I realize salary and benefits are standard across the district and don’t vary much between districts, but I would still like to do my due diligence.” I was going to ask for two weeks to make my decision, which is standard in my industry, but the principal pushed me again, “Can you give me an answer by Monday?”

Monday was my last day of work at the corporate oil & gas company where I’d worked for eight years. I’d given my two weeks’ notice without so much as an interview, and now I had a job offer with a principal asking me to make a decision by the very Monday that would be my last day of work at a career that had held me for almost a decade.

I agreed to have an answer by Monday, and I was amazed at the way God worked out the timing. But then again, that’s the character of our God. He stirs up amazement, awe and wonder in those who know Him and follow His leading. He was just waiting on me to take a leap of faith.

Authentically Aurora