Sometimes, I ache for my old school and my old district. Sure, it was a crazy place at times and we had more than our fair share of disasters. It’s easy to look back, roll my eyes and laugh as I tell stories about the things that used to happen. But the big events worth sharing now were much less frequent than the good things that happened, day in and day out, and right now the nostalgia for all of those things is hitting me badly.
I miss being in a district that wasn’t so cocky as to believe it could start from scratch and do better than anyone else. I miss how our math curriculum person used her time to bring together existing resources, whether those resources were math questions or smart teachers, and improve things rather than re-create them. I miss how she would hear out anyone who came to her with anything from a small correction to the harshest feedback, look into it, and make immediate change when she pinpointed the issue. I miss the emphasis on problem solving and mathematical reasoning over drill-and-kill test-taking skills, which is difficult to teach and nothing short of courageous in a AYP-failing district. I miss teachers who took me under their wings and passed on all their tips and secrets without hesitation, because they had no reason to feel competition between us. I miss administrators who would close their office doors and just sit with teachers to hear how they were feeling. I miss having colleagues who had been in the neighborhood forever. I miss expectations being differentiated for different teachers. I miss my kids, terribly, every day.
I know I’m one of the Bad Ones. I did my two years and fled my placement school. I know I did a terrible thing leaving, because they recently offered me my dream promotion, and put out a $3,000 bonus to the teacher that could convince me to come back. I’m part of the statistic that people use to attack TFA, saying that teachers just do their time and then leave. Some people forgive me a little for staying in teaching, and some give bonus points for staying in a high-need population, but others hate me double for ending up in a high-achieving charter school.
I know it means nothing to anyone, but I would have loved to stay at my old school. I can’t imagine there is another place that would better maximize both the kids needing me enormously and me getting what I needed professionally, which often seem to be mutually exclusive in education. But I hated Phoenix, and couldn’t have stayed in a city where I made few worthwhile personal connections and rarely found an excuse to leave my house that didn’t involve work. My social life, happiness, and mental health have all improved dramatically since I got out of there, and I won’t sacrifice any of those to make TFA look better. Those improvements made me decisive in turning down the dream job, but don’t think my heart didn’t hurt when I did it. And now, instead of planning for tomorrow, I’m going through my old district’s website and remembering how things used to be.