Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Tribute To My School Family

“In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, and a bridge to our future.”  Alex Haley

It is that time of the year again, when our students set out to blaze new trails and start a new chapter in their life. Graduation, celebrations and the last summer before they head off for college or to begin their working lives.  I remember the feeling.  I was so proud and happy that I had graduated high school and was excited about starting college in the fall.  As a 17 year old, I didn’t really do a whole lot of reflecting on my high school career that last summer.  I was busy playing softball and well….. being a teenager.  As time for leaving grew near, the reality of what was about to happen started to hit me.  I remember not being able to sleep the night before I was to leave.  I had all of these doubts about whether or not I could handle the rigorous classes.  Would I fit in? What types of friends would I make? Would I be able to survive being away from the comfort and safety of my family and home?  I remember knocking on my parent’s bedroom door.  My Mom asked what was wrong and I told her I was nervous and I couldn’t sleep.  She said, in her best motherly voice, “You’ll be fine, get some rest.”  I chuckle now when I think of that exchange.  I know that if those words are uttered by someone who has been cheering you on and supporting you for your entire life, then they are enough to set your mind at ease and let you get some sleep.  That’s what families do—make you feel everything will be just fine.  I suspect the feelings I had so long ago are pretty normal for high school students who are getting ready for the next adventure in their lives.

What about teachers? The end of the school year represents something different for teachers.  The last day, of course, is really not the end.  Usually the countdown to the last school day is met with cheers and excitement as a long awaited rest and break is needed.  Most teachers enjoy time with friends and family, enjoy hobbies, travel and get things done that they wouldn’t be able to do during the school year.  When fall (or early August) rolls around, we ramp up and get ready for a whole new crop of students who are ready to start their high school careers.

I’ve been through this end of the year process 22 times and each year it is about the same.  We don’t say good bye as most of the time we see our colleagues at one point during the summer, whether it be at school doing curriculum writing or on some social occasions.  When we come back for the start of the new school year—we catch up with those we didn’t see during the break and talk about the great summers we had and the feeling that the start of the school year comes earlier every year.  I had every intention of going through those same activities and emotions at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.  After all I am a veteran teacher who has been in the same school her entire career.  Some things change, people come and go but Bettendorf High School has been a constant in my life.   My colleagues, some of which have been here as long as I have or in rare cases, a little longer have the routine down pat.  We use the first few days of in-service to catch up before we get back into the swing of things as the new school year begins. 

But, for me, this year is much different.  I have accepted a job as Director of Instructional Technology for Catalyst Schools, a network of public charter schools in Chicago.  The strange thing, I wasn’t really looking to leave Bettendorf High School.  I was happy here and loved my job, the people I work with and the work that we were doing.  Why would I leave?  To me, I had the perfect job. 

Something felt different about this opportunity.  I felt a strange yearning to take what I have learned here over the last 23 years and share it with a group of students and teachers I felt I could impact in a very meaningful way.  My pride in what Bettendorf High School does, and the culture of community that we have here made it very difficult to accept this offer. That may sound odd, after all if I have such strong feelings about what we are doing here in Bettendorf shouldn’t I want to stay and finish what we’ve started.  Instead, I found myself thinking of ways I could help Catalyst Schools on their road to transforming teaching and learning.  They would be looking to me for help in implementing a vision that I will help to create.  That’s what it is all about in education, right?  I mean education isn’t only about helping students grow, it’s also an avenue of growth for the very professionals that do the work on an everyday basis.  We work so hard to improve our craft so that we can challenge our students every day in our classrooms.  I feel, what I can only describe as an obligation, to take what I have learned and gained here in Bettendorf and cultivate it in other communities.  I am so very proud of what we have here in Bettendorf and I believe that if I can help another “school community” to establish the type of educational excellence we have here in Bettendorf then I have been successful.  This opportunity will allow me to both challenge myself and continue impacting students every day.  Sounds like a win-win! 

Of course, now it is nearing the end and I am realizing that again, I will be leaving home.  A home, in which, I have lived longer than any other place in my life.  A family that has gone through many changes but has been a consistent source of support and encouragement to me in both my personal and my professional life.  All of my adult life has been spent here and that makes leaving very difficult.  I feel like that 17 year old graduate the night before leaving.  I have some of those same doubts.  Am I making a mistake leaving? Will I be able to make a positive impact?  Will I be able to establish beneficial relationships with my colleagues?  Will I be able to help teachers integrate technology in a meaningful way?  Although these doubts will creep into my thoughts the next few days, this time, I’m not having trouble sleeping because age and experience have taught me that when you leave home your family will always provide the support, love and encouragement that you need.  Your family wants what is best for you as a person and a professional and will support you in any way they can.  Just as Mom, Dad and my siblings helped me to mature into a young person who could take on the challenge of attending college, my family here in Bettendorf has given me the confidence and courage to strike out on a new adventure.  That is what is so wonderful about Bettendorf.  I consider the people I work with my family and I know that they have been helping me to be the best person and teacher I can be and that is not going to change just because I am changing jobs.  Just like the people that I am related to by blood, my Bettendorf family has been there for me through everything you can imagine and I will forever be grateful to have them in my life.  There isn’t any way that I can thank my Bettendorf family enough for everything they have given me so I will make this promise, I will continue to strive to be the best Bulldog I can be and that will take me as far as I care to go.

I know family members, regardless of their relationship to you, will only be a phone call, text, tweet, email or face-time conversation away.  And that is the way it should be.

 “In life, a person will come and go from many homes.  We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us.  Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world.  They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.”    Ari Berk

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