I became a teacher in 2008. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with the energy of a 22-year old about to change the world.
2008 was the exact year that education in AZ took it’s biggest nosedive.
Since 2008, AZ state legislatures have cut more public education funding than any other state in the nation. Prop 123 only restored 18% of what was actually cut.
We are currently #51 in per-pupil spending (Yeah, 51 –- that includes the District of Columbia).
This school year, 47% of vacant teacher positions remain unstaffed or have substitutes.
My first year teaching, I dove straight in. For $33k, I taught 157 freshman and senior English students. I coached and sponsored and worked about 60-70 hours in a typical week.
I was doing the work I had set out to do: I was changing lives, and those lives were changing mine.
I was nominated for the district Rookie of the Year and made it to the final round. My volleyball team lost a single game that season (after their coach taught herself the sport off of YouTube). Every junior and senior I tutored passed the AIMS exam.
And at the end of that first year, I was told there was a high probability that I would be let go. That our district may not have the funds to keep me.
I was put on the bottom of a list of district seniority (it sat right next to the copy machine in the front office in an ominous black binder) so that I’d know how close I was to losing my job as more and more were eliminated. This went on for about four months before I found out that I was one of the lucky ones that would get to keep my position…
…even though all teachers were getting a 2% pay cut.
I kept at it. Teaching gave me life, even when I was personally stumbling.
My first husband, a teacher, had an affair with a student.
That’s a part of my story I’ve yet to brave or find a place to tell, but it is exactly that: part of my story. (There’s a lot of brave people out there speaking out. I’m so proud of these people every time they share their stories. I’m getting there). We separated when something was obviously wrong. I reported him when I discovered what was going on. He and the student’s mother lied to the police about it, and then he was turned in months later.
A single mom from 2012-2014, making ends meet on an Arizona teacher’s salary was a joke. Carter’s insurance alone through the district was just over $700 a month (about a third of my income). I picked up a 6/5 schedule to help, but it was still nearly impossible.
None of that came with me to school. That melted away when I was in my element, in the classroom. After years of creating a safe place for students, I found out that my classroom was actually just that for me.
It was about that time that I decided to go back to school and get my Master’s. Education opens doors. I chose Curriculum and Instruction in Gifted Education after a night of watching my then two-year old read me bedtime stories. (Carter Patrick, you have always shown me how to grow.)
Life hasn’t slowed down. These past years have been the highest of highs and the saddest of sads. I married Jesse in the spring of 2014 and we had Jack in January of 2015. Megan was killed three weeks later, and my Master’s graduation was in May. I remember finishing that final semester in a blur of sleepless nights after losing her, rocking Jack to sleep at all hours and thinking, over and over “Why does all of this even matter?”
I don’t have the answer for all of that, not in word-form. I just know it does.
All of what we do and know and speak matters because life keeps going, and because things can get better. I know that because I’m married to the person who spurs me on towards greatness and cuddles me when it gets too hard. I know that because we made a life for the three of us after Jesse married me and Carter.
I still remember the days that I prayed for just that, if only that. Looking back at that is like standing on top of a mountain and pointing to where you started. Cheesy and true — plus the air just tastes better up there.
And that was before adding Jack and the twins. It all still takes my breath away. Even with my hands full of bottles and diapers and a never-clean-enough house and trying to keep up on Gifted and now Autism and infant twins and and and — whenever I can hold still enough to find my anxious breath, I always exhale hard and let it get taken away.
I know that this life is impossible. We’re never going to get it all; we’re never going to get it all right. I also know that every one of us is a boat full of stories. And I know that’s why I started teaching. Because I wanted to learn stories and tell stories and open eyes, hearts and doors — because that’s what learning does for me.
So, I’m coming back. This year, I’m looking to dip my toes back into education. I know that I’m coming back to fight for kids and for teachers and for Arizona. I don’t know yet what that’s going to look like, but I can feel what it feels like, and it is all sorts of good.