I dislike change. I have always steered away from risks, whether they be physical (no crazy skiing maneuvers), social (I hate throwing parties for fear they'll come out poorly), or professional. And as the known is always less unsettling than the unknown, which of necessity requires some risk, I tend to stick things out until I get shoved out of a situation or it becomes glaringly obvious that it is time to move on. The latter happened when I lived in Prague: after almost two years, I realized I had no savings and had made little professional headway and needed to move on.
I recently found out what it feels like to be forced into a new situation, as I got booted from my job. Allow me to provide some background. I have been teaching at the same school now for three years. There are some less than desirable parts of my job: as the newest ESOL teacher, I often get stuck teaching classes that no one else wants, like team-taught Biology or World History for beginning ESOL students (a ton of work but actually a joy to teach). I do not have my own classroom but am relegated to a traveling cart. I somehow allowed myself to become an indentured servant to the track team. But the job is still fantastic in many ways, largely because the school itself is such a great place. We have an unusually supportive administration who values ESOL, a department filled with hard-working and bright people, and what I believe is the best population of students you could possibly imagine: a mix of well-educated kids, students with limited first language literacy who can really benefit from care and attention, and a wide range of nationalities and backgrounds. I have been really happy and often find myself pleasantly surprised that I enjoy my job so much.
A few weeks ago, my assistant principal called me into her office. I knew the news was bad from the tone of her "hi" and her body language: she was clearly prepared to give bad news and wanted to convey her own disappointment. Our ESOL numbers dropped significantly this year, with the result that I, again as the lowest man on the totem pole, have been destaffed. She was kindness personified, letting me know that she regretted losing me and wished I hadn't been forced to leave. She expressed some hope that I would be able to stay on through teaching a combination of French and perhaps another subject, but acknowledged that it was not certain that it would work out.
I was devastated. While I knew that there would be a likely drop in numbers, last year they somehow managed to find the funding for me to keep my position. I think I hoped it would be possible again this year. I went back to my office and told my two favorite co-workers and then lost it a little bit (I could not completely hold back a few tears--which I completely, utterly hate doing). I barely made it through my last class of the day. Then I emailed the Fairfax County ESOL specialist and let her know my situation. She promptly replied and gave me the name of the department chair at a nearby school and told me to apply for an opening. I spent the weekend updating my resume and applied on Monday.
That same day, my boss called me back in to let me know there would still be a full-time position for me, but teaching half French, half AVID, a study skills class to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds prepare for college. While both would be interesting, neither is my passion. She said she'd see what she could do about getting ESOL for me, and I let her know I was looking elsewhere. On Tuesday, she called me in again to tell me that my colleague had offered to teach the AVID classes so I could keep at least a bit of ESOL. I was thrilled.
What next? I had heard from the other school and was planning an interview. I figured it didn't hurt to keep my options open, and my boss knew I was looking other places. At this point I felt like staying at Fairfax was a relief and I would just see what the other school offered. Then the night before the interview, the science department chair sent out the schedule for Biology next year. Contrary to my request and the request of my team teacher, he had not placed us together for next year. Instead, my period of Biology was the rogue class, the extra period left for whoever was willing to take on an extra class. I loved teaching Biology with my team teacher, and I have hated it with anyone else. I am a complete control freak when it comes to teaching and am miserable working with anyone who is less than fantastic. So my schedule for next year now was: three sections of French, one section of Biology with someone I probably would not enjoy teaching with, and one bona fide section of ESOL. Suddenly, the position at the other school was looking much better.
I went for the interview and felt great about the school. I could tell I had the right answers to their questions and felt they were responding well. By the end of the interview, I felt fairly confident that the job would be mine. My only concern now was that I worried about my assistant principal: she had worked with multiple departments to rearrange things and keep my job for me, and I worried that she would be frustrated when I left after all her work. When I spoke to her, her response was, "That's a great opportunity. I wouldn't blame you at all for taking it." And that was that. When they offered it to me a few days later, I said yes.
I am grateful I found a good position and that life goes on. I am having a hard time imagining what it will be like not to see my colleagues or the students that I have come to care so much about, and I cannot help feeling bitter that I could not stay at a place I loved, where my work was appreciated, because of an antiquated tenure law. I say out with tenure! Let the best teachers remain--not the oldest.