Featurette: A guest piece written by one of our readers. A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment. You can submit your short story for consideration here. Today’s guest piece is written by Jenny Hochmiller.
Being an educator takes a certain type of person, and I question if I am that type of person. After 6 years of experience, how is my level of confidence still shaky? Yes, my level of confidence is unrecognizably stronger from my initial days in the classroom, but I feel inept in my ability to make a strong impact. Am I in transition, or not? These conflicting thoughts bring such a strong wave of emotion, as if I’m a part of an abusive relationship – one I want to leave, but have such an unhealthy attachment to.
Going into education seemed like a natural fit. My teachers were some of my strongest mentors, and being a contributing member of a vibrant school community was something I longed for. Of course, a teenager’s perspective of a career versus the actual realities that exist within that career create a strong collide. I had more discourage me from going into the classroom than tell me it was a good idea, and the retention rates spoke for themselves. Yet, I refused to be a statistic.
So I dove right in, right into the Montbello neighborhood. Boy, was I in for a huge wake up call. My first year greeted me with teaching credit recovery classes on computers for every subject under the sun, an Algebra class full of 40 freshmen, three rooms to travel in between, a board vote to phase out our failing school over the next four years, a building void of a principal halfway through the year, and having to re-interview for my position three times within that year. Thank goodness for a strong bond with so many of my students and colleagues – we held each other up during what I regard as such a dark time. Many days I had to remind myself to breathe.
But for some strange reason, I wanted to stay. There was such a stark contrast from the environment I grew up in and the education I received, to the job I stepped into. Yet, I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere else. The way I saw it, education is what defined my family. Education brought them from blue collar to white collar, no high school degree to ivy league degrees within just one generation. How could this community be denied what is considered the great equalizer of our time? From my perspective that equated to staying, because the more who stayed, potentially the less unstable the school would be. This was considering how teachers who had been there for two years were seen as veterans, and gained unprecedented respect from the students because they showed they cared enough to stay.
Flash forward to six years later, and I attribute so much of who I am to what this community has built within me. Perseverance and resilience, from days this non-crier would come home sobbing from brokenness in every aspect of the word. Drive to be the best educator I can be, despite feeling like the measures to meet this goal were impossible. Having so much of me being intertwined with a people who are now my family. And an endless desire for excellence, even if it feels like such a false hope that’s a dangling carrot in front of me.
The question now is, whether the level of self-sacrifice is too strong to continue. To be excellent requires a great deal of time. Time that bleeds into the evenings and weekends, when I’m supposed be enjoying time with family, friends, or simply indulging into necessary self-care. Time that I so freely gave away through the majority of my 20s. And in my experience with school reform, it has been so heart wrenchingly painful. My greatest mentors that I have stood side-by-side with have either voluntarily left, or been involuntarily removed. I look around, and only two remain from that first year I began, and both question their ability to continue.
Will I stay or go? Am I grieving the end of a huge chapter in my life, paralyzed with fear and standing in the neutral zone refusing to move, or starting a new beginning by entertaining the idea of moving in another direction? Getting a thrill out of the unknown has never been me – I am terrified. Terrified to leave, as well as terrified that I’ll never leave. I have no desire to go in any other direction, as well as no desire to stay. I question if know who I am. But a mantra I repeated to myself over and over on my drive to work last year, in an attempt to begin the process of surrendering control, was that my job does not define who I am, and God will continue to love me despite my successes or failures.