"Education is not a product: mark, diploma, job, money; It is a process, a never-ending one."
This letter serves a few purposes, all related to my experience and perspective on teaching.
Let me get the biggest news out of the way: i am leaving Antonia Pantoja High School at the end of the quarter. This was one of the most difficult decisions i have had to make, one that i have been struggling with for many months. I will take with me not only the best experience working and learning, but the memories of a school working tirelessly towards changing things for the better. I hope that i have helped leave a mark in this school. I hope my efforts have made a difference in our students.
I have known some of you for almost one year, some of you for just over one month. My relationships to the faculty and staff members of Aspira vary from close friends to minor acquaintances. Each and every person has helped me at one time or another, and for this i can only hope that i have also helped to make some small difference in your experience working at Antonia Pantoja. (If i haven't, give me a call—i'm available for odd jobs, grading papers, raking leaves, vacuuming your car, etc.)
Irregardless of how small or large of an impact i have made on this school, i hope to continue to make a difference by encouraging you to work towards doing the best you can teaching, inspiring, and struggling with each one of our students no matter how hard they prove to be to teach. We work under some of the most difficult conditions; however, do not forget that we work with some of the most creative yet misunderstood students out there. I urge you—do not overlook the possibilities and potential in our kids. They have exceeded some of my most challenging expectations.
I wish to provide you with a glimpse of my personal perspective on teaching and living while working at Antonia Pantoja. I kept a journal during the length of my stay here, all of which can be read online at www.okcancel.org/teacher. Below is one of my journal entries from April 11th of this year:
don't get me wrong. every person on this earth has the capability to be a teacher. it takes no training, no formal education, no certificate, and no prior experience in teaching. it only takes a heart and a mind. (to all reading: remember this when you question whether or not you can be a teacher.)
from april 3rd to 11th, i spent eight days away from school and traveled Mexico. i paused once or twice questioning the job i would be returning to on monday, april 12th. it's true, the responsibility scares me. today i finally put pen to paper:
i am coming to the realization that i cannot yet act the role of a professional school teacher. and i am very close to forfeiting my position as English teacher at Antonia Pantoja High School. i have been a teacher here for just over three months -- a professional teacher with no prior experience. how did i get the job? i was recommended to substitute teach, then recommended to teach full-time based on my dedication and my immediate connection with the students. but i have made many mistakes and i have doubted myself countless times. how have i made it this far? i have had tremendous support from my fellow teachers at APHS and inspiration from our current principal, Daisy Lopez. in addition to support and inspiration, i have had the most amazing experiences with my students. they are the reason i rise each morning at 5:30, and they are the fuel for my body and spirit throughout the day. i recognize that i am the type of person who needs motivation and a push every day in order to press on in difficult situations. the faces and voices and laughter of my students are my motivation.
i will continue on in my position as professional teacher for now, believing in those who have told me that i am a great teacher no matter what. i give myself many reasons (excuses) to quit. i have so many other dreams to fulfill. but i will teach for my students and for everyone who told me not to give up.
And so i continued on teaching after April 11th. I took some time off over the summer to travel. I returned with new ideas and ready to teach again.
The difficulties of being an untrained, unqualified teacher have not left me, though. I struggle with these feelings everyday. I encounter countless situations with students and with lessons where i do not have the experience or the training in order to resolve a problem. Teaching has given me great experience in using my intuition and improving my skills, but it is no excuse for those times i wish i could have provided more for the students.
Everywhere in public and alternative schools, we can find a crisis of qualification. Unfortunately, i am another example of this. Of course we would all love to find Antonia Pantoja well stocked with highly qualified teachers. But only until recently has the school had more than one or two certified teachers. Still, there exists a deficit of teachers with lengthy teaching experience and a shortage of teachers of color. Our school suffers, but worst of all, our students suffer. This much is obvious. Some statistics: during the 1999-2000 school year, roughly 50 percent of the nation's middle and high school teachers would not have been considered "highly qualified" by the Department of Education's standards. It cannot be argued that the students who need the most resources and the best teaching possible to be successful are often being taught by teachers with little or no experience. More stats: the New York Times found that 50 percent of the teachers in urban schools leave teaching within their first five years. Lastly, students in schools that have a population of 90 percent or more African-American and Latino students are twice as likely to have teachers without certification at all.
I find myself in these statistics.
I am not discouraged. I am, however, greatly disappointed, even enraged at the state of our educational system today. So why am i leaving? Am i running away? No. I am leaving for a variety of reasons, primarily to reset myself and spend some time with my family. I will return to school to get a masters degree in education. I will become certified. And most importantly, i hope to live a life where i follow my many various dreams. I hope to experience many things and return to teaching with valuable stories and lessons with which to teach.
For those of you teaching and counseling now: you are the hope and the strength for our students. Please do not give up. You have been my inspiration and my support.
Someday we will meet again and we will have some amazing stories to share.
thank you for everything,
P.S. by the way, the statistics above are from the magazine Rethinking Schools, Vol.19, Issue 1.