Pretend you have worked for the same company for 27 years. You know the company’s procedures and idiosyncracies, the people to contact when you need something done or have a question, and many of the employees.
Then you get a job with a new company.
You miss half the training because you already scheduled two weeks of vacation that worked with your old job calendar but completely interfere with the new one. You go from serving clients ages 5-11 to ones who are 9-18. You have to learn new passwords for ten different systems, the majority of which you don’t even know their use. You just doubled your number of co-workers, which means you doubled the number of people you don’t know. The acronyms are different (some are the same so you get excited that you actually know something – but they mean different things), you can’t find the parking lot, you don’t have a place for any of the supplies you spent years accumulating, and within a week of starting you are supposed to take a test that will basically determine whether or not you get to keep your job. And now you are not just serving people but you are also scoring them – and those scores might make a difference in the rest of their life. And the picture you took for your new badge really sucks.
On one of the few days I managed to attend training for my new job at the Advanced Learning Academy, we were asked to share something we accomplished this summer. I said, “I got my dream job.” I know it doesn’t sound like it after looking at all of the challenges I just described, but I’m going to stick to that statement. It has been an anxiety-ridden and humbling journey so far, but I still get up excited to go to work each day.
What exactly is my job? Good question, glad you asked. Officially, my title is STEAM Master Teacher. I work with another teacher in our school Makerspace, collaborate with other teachers, and teach courses that range from Game Design (with 4th and 5th graders) to Principles of Engineering (8th-11th grades). Our school, Advanced Learning Academy, is an “in-district charter”, which basically means that I still work for a public school district, but we do lots of innovative things. The campus I am on is a high school campus (where we serve 4th-12th; PK-3rd are in another building) that also houses two other magnet schools.
My biggest challenge right now (besides learning carpentry and trying not to get lost) is classroom management. My style has always depended on relationships, and many of my students had me several years in a row in my previous job as a GT teacher. Forging relationships with K-5th grade students is a lot different than trying to develop them with teenagers. Last week I went from laughing and adoring my first period of teenagers to wanting to come home and hide under a rock after my second period. It’s amazing how quickly everything you’ve learned in 27 years goes right out the window when a student talks back to you before he has even gotten the chance to learn how invested you are in his success. Not that it never happened with my elementary kids – but I’m pretty sure it never happened within the first 15 minutes I met them.
I have had to ask more questions and request more advice in the last two weeks than I probably have in the last 10 years of my career combined. Like most people, I am very uncomfortable in situations where I feel ignorant. That’s basically been my feeling since I agreed to take this job. Extended periods of ignorance are even more stressful.
Now I get to test out what I’ve been telling my students for so long – with experience and practice we improve. Learn from failure and make the appropriate adjustments. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t get into power struggles with teenagers in a room full of saws and hammers.
Okay, I don’t think I ever explicitly mentioned the last one, but you must admit that it’s good advice.