A New Leap: Changes Are Coming!

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”---Kurt Vonnegut

This quotation sort of epitomizes what the past 5 weeks have looked like for me and what I am assuming the next year and a half will also look like.

Here’s the big news--I have been offered and have accepted a new job in education.  For the past 13 years I have been a classroom teacher, teaching high school English and, for the most part, really loving it.  I taught in Holland, Michigan, Chicago and now, most recently, in Grand Rapids.

I have, though, been thinking a lot about pursuing either administration or work in higher education.  Truthfully, sometimes the incredibly low salary I am making coupled with the 40+ hours I work coupled with really intense parents coupled with a community that has never quite felt like the “right” fit has been getting to me. I’ve had many conversations with Ian and other friends, both in and outside of the education world that all focus around the general question of, “Is there more out there for me that could push me in a new and challenging direction?”  I’ve considered heading back to school for my PhD or really pursuing the administrative track, but nothing had shown up in my job search that seemed like the best fit.  

Ever since we moved back to Grand Rapids in 2013, I have wanted to be in Grand Rapids Public Schools. I know for some this might seem strange, but to me that is my wheelhouse--urban education in a smaller district that has seen challenges and changes--all of those factors that force me to really use my Masters in Social Justice Education in my home city.  

Thus, I started vaguely looking around--finding jobs here and there, not really pursuing anything because I didn’t want to look really hard until at least early Spring.  However, this winter, an opportunity came along that I felt compelled to explore--Curriculum Integration Specialist for the Grand Rapids Public Schools new Museum School.  

The Museum School is a new school within the GRPS system that is building--starting with a 6th grade and adding to 12th grade each year, it focuses on place based education with experiential opportunities for kids and is widely heralded as one of the most progressive educational centers in the state.  I’ve heard wonderful things about the new Museum School and also felt excited that this was a leadership position in a public school setting, on the forefront of progressive education in Michigan, so I decided to look into it, not really expecting to get very far in the hiring process.  Fast forward a few interviews and a couple weeks, and I found myself looking at a very appealing job offer on a Friday afternoon in late January.

But there was a problem-it was an immediate start date. What I didn’t initially realize when I applied for this job was that I would need to leave my current job mid-year in order to accept the GRPS job.  Leaving mid-year was not something I had ever considered in education, and while I know that many teachers and administrators do that, for me, it just wasn’t something I thought was part of my path.  My students this year are amazing, I absolutely LOVE them, and my teaching has been some of the strongest ever in my career--leaving mid-year felt really not good.

However, I couldn't just walk away from the GRPS offering--it had too many positive qualities to just turn it down. Thus, I went back to the table and negotiated salary and start date, and GRPS was generous enough to extend my start date to April 10, thus giving me about 5 weeks to prepare my students, myself and a long term sub to end the school year for a clean transition.

This new position is extremely exciting for me--I get to be on the ground floor of building and designing a new high school in Grand Rapids.  The demographic of students will be in my wheelhouse, it will be urban education and it will be experiential and hands-on in nature.  I get to help teams of other educators build a school from the ground up and I get to, hopefully, at the end of the position, be able to look at this new school and say, “I helped to make that.” Plus, this position offers me the opportunity to go back to the classroom after a year, if I want to do so, which is terribly appealing, considering how much I love working day in and day out with students.

That being said, this is also a really scary change.  I will have a full year and a half without students or a classroom.  I will be coordinating work styles and schedules with various teams of adults from across the city and work on developing curriculum that is both interesting, engaging, rigorous and abiding by Common Core Standards.  I will have significantly different leadership expectations and I will be doing something I have never done before; lets just say I’ve had more than a few nightmares and panicked phone calls to friends questioning, “Is this REALLY the right step?”  One of the most comforting factors of this, though, has been that resoundingly, across the board from everyone who has been part of helping me make this decision, including my current principal, the answer has resoundingly been, “YES. Take it!”

That’s the update. I have a new job and I’m starting on April 10 and my last day with students in my classroom will be March 30 (cue the tears, this breaks my heart).  I am leaping into the unknown here and while it’s super terrifying, I also feel a huge sense of excitement and energy behind this new position.  

Xoox and happy Friday!

--Em