Hard Days at Work

I’m lucky in that I love my day job. Seriously. I’ve been working as a high school teacher now for three years, and it’s still an absolute blast. I get to come in every day, discuss interesting things with young(er) people and try to motivate them to be better. It sounds cliched and hokey, but those moments when you see your students succeed are what make the job worthwhile. When I start making real money off my writing – one day – I maintain that I’m going to keep teaching, since I can’t imagine myself not doing it for the next thirty or whatever years.

Like with any job, though, there are hard days. Today is one of those days, because I find myself at the end of the school year, and at the end of my employment with the alternate school where I’ve been teaching since January 2014. I’m leaving because I’m what the Ontario education system calls an LTO, or long-term occasional – essentially I’m a temp filling in for someone who’s on maternity leave, sabbatical, etc. For a variety of reasons that aren’t really relevant here, I didn’t get the opportunity to become permanent at this school, and so I’m moving on, likely to another LTO in September. Given that the average span to achieve a permanent contract is about five years, and I’m only at the end of my third, I’m not really surprised, despite my disappointment.

I’m disappointed because, as I’ve said to my colleagues many times, the past year-and-a-half is the most fun that I’ve had in my teaching career. Working in an alternate school is probably one of the most challenging gigs in my profession, since we teach some of the most at-risk students, but that also makes it one of the most rewarding. I’ve had students enter my room who despise school and never want to show up, and between my efforts and those of my colleagues watched students start to find their stride and figure out a way to make school work for them. I’ve helped students through deep personal crises, encouraged them to succeed at a time when they thought everyone expected them to fail, and in many cases just been a reliable source of kindness in a world that, for them, is unpredictable and terrifying. When I first came to this school, I had a similar feeling of terror – but now, I can’t believe that it’s over.

One of the main reasons why I’m sad about leaving is the amazing group of people I work with at this school. In this type of environment, the only way to survive is by having a team in the trenches with you that you can depend on. And I’ve had that. There are two guidance counsellors here who always seem to know what to do in a crisis, who have provided support and advice to me in more ways than I can count. There are people on this staff who never fail to make me laugh, even on the shittiest of days. I was lucky to have a vice-principal who has had my back the entire year, and who I could approach with anything, big or small, personal or professional. And when people say they’re sad to see me go because of how effective I am, and I shrug non-chalantly and say, “Meh, I do my best,” they all cut through my self-deprecation and tell me, “No, you’re actually really good.”

This is probably the hardest last day of my career, which is why I’m taking the time this week to talk about that, and not my writing. But I count myself lucky that I got to spend so long working in such an amazing place, and that I get to take everything I’ve learned to wherever I end up at next and blow their friggin’ socks off. And maybe someday – probably far from now – I’ll end up back with my dysfunctional work family, in the school that I’ve come to love.

For now, as one of my colleagues reminds me, onward and upward!

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