This is a story about change. It’s a story about new journeys, and about goodbyes. It’s not a sad story at all, but it’s not an easy one, either.
In a matter of a few weeks this spring, I learned a few things: One, that a student of mine had been named high school journalist of the year for the state of New Jersey; two, that I’d been given a distinguished teaching award from my school; three, that I’d been hired as the newest assistant principal in my school; and, lastly, that this new job would preclude me from continuing to serve as the adviser of our school’s newspaper.
It was a lot for one spring, and it definitely kept me on my toes. I joined my award-winning student and her parents in late April at the New Jersey Press Foundation’s spring banquet, and watched as journalists from across the state applauded her ambitious reporting on teen e-cigarette smoking. She had covered this topic so well that a reporter quoted her and her article in a New York Times story. In the days that followed, I shared the news of her success with anyone who would listen, and there were a lot of people excited to hear about it.
As April leaned into May, I found myself moving through the detailed interview process for our school’s open assistant principal position. Just as that position was offered to me, then approved by the Board of Education, I also learned of the teaching award. It might have seemed strange to some that a “distinguished teacher” was leaving classroom teaching. For me, though, the goal was clear: To see if some of the cool stuff that goes on in my classroom can be passed along on a school-wide level. I can only learn if this is possible by trying it out, and this seemed like the ideal time to give it a try. So I did.
Once I became an administrator-in-waiting, it was also time to find a replacement for me as newspaper adviser, due to the justified concerns over an administrator having any prior review over an uncensored, student-run newspaper. My students were crushed to learn that I wouldn’t be their adviser, but students and staff have worked through this together, through communication, determination and aggressive hiring. I’ve spent hours making sure all the pieces of our journalism program are detailed on paper, and will continue communicating the nuts and bolts of our program to those replacing me throughout the weeks and months ahead.
While I will continue interacting with students every day, I’ve willingly taken on a position that removes me from classroom teaching. Earlier in my career, I vowed that as long as I remained in education, I would never leave the classroom. Now, as I prepare for my 20th year as an educator, I am willing to broaden my definition of “the classroom” to include the school as a whole. It feels bittersweet right now, of course, but that’s because goodbyes can be hard.
When I left reporting for teaching in the summer of 1999, I moved to a different state, and worked in an entirely different venue. I missed reporting, but I was surrounded by all the stimuli of education. Now, as I embark on another career switch, I will not be moving far. In fact, I’ll walk past my classroom every day and will see all that I left behind. It will be like looking out the classroom door back in 1999 and seeing the newsroom across the hall. Change is tough, but it’s even tougher when the pieces of your goodbye remain in your line of sight. Of course, that classroom – and the newsroom that preceded it – will also serve to remind me of what I’m aspiring to do, and why my experience as a reporter and teacher might just translate into an effective school administrator.
June is a bittersweet month for students; they draw the logos of their colleges on graduation caps, then toss those caps in the air with glee – only to retrieve the caps in tears, hugging those friends to whom they must now say goodbye. I usually stand on the periphery of that scene every June, retrieving a few stray beach balls and packing my things for the summer. This year, though, I’m right in the midst of the bittersweet. I’m ready for what’s next.
After our seniors tossed their caps in the air this past Friday at the football stadium down the street from our school, I wasn’t sure what to do. I found some car keys that a student had left behind, and held onto those until a teacher said he could bring them to the kid. I helped the custodians fold some chairs. I smiled for some student photos, and even took a snapshot of a family. As I prepared to leave, a student with whom I’d worked throughout the past four years ran over to me. He’d been the president of our school’s Community Service Club, and I’ve been that club’s adviser for a dozen years. This young man has grown into the type of leader who can change the world, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. In some small way, I’ve tried to help nurture his leadership and compassion for the past four years. Wishing him the best was bittersweet, but also a reminder of the reason I’m making this transition: To try and make more of those connections, in as many ways as I can.
Educating children is a leap of faith: You don’t necessarily get to see the end results of the impact you’re trying to make on students’ lives. They may not recognize it, and certainly may not run across a field to give you a goodbye hug. But you do the work anyway, modeling the kind of thinking, caring, leading and inquiring that you hope they’ll take with them into this crazy world. Sometimes we get a bonus, and some students tell us we made a difference in their lives. But we don’t ask for that. We just ask for the opportunity to step into the school and do our best.
After departing the graduation, I walked back to the school and stepped into the classroom that is no longer mine. I packed up some boxes and brought them to my car. In one hand, I carried a small bag with a few gifts and cards from students. I would read the cards when I got home, and the tears would be there. But for now, I was just clocking out on my 19th year of teaching, ready for
another chance to make a difference in September.