Moving On

For once I feel that I am at a loss for the catchy line needed to properly open a blog post. I am sure that there are many out there who would know how to write the post that is to close out a blog, and along with it a chapter of my life and career. Though, I fear, I am not one of those people. As I fumble to come up with words I find that I really have no way to adequately describe the emotions that currently flow or the thoughts that flit through my brain. So, as I always tell my students to do, I’ll just start writing.

In truth, this blog has been closed for almost a year. When I logged on today, I realized that the last time I posted was to wish my 2014-2015 AP Biology class farewell. Then, it appears, I went silent. I had been in the habit of posting my musings and news of the events in my classes weekly, or at worst monthly. Those days were days where my entire focus was teaching, Anchor leadership, and whatever side project I may have in the works. This year, the year that my blog has gone silent, represents a dramatic shift in that focus. I would have loved to have recorded all that I’ve done and thought in the last 12 months, but for the most part silence has been a necessity and other things have held my attention.

2011 was a year of transition for Jamie and I. We moved to Durham for her job and I was lucky enough to land a job teaching at City of Medicine Academy. My transition into the DPS system was rough, but I immediately found a home at CMA. From my first class onwards it was apparent to those in charge that I did things a bit differently (At least this is what they’ve told me)d. I had no idea that my practice was uncommon because I was just doing what I had always done. Within the first couple of months I started to get prodded and poked into pursuing a Kenan Fellowship. I figured that I had nothing to lose, put in an application, and got accepted. The 2012-2013 school year marked a significant shift in my career. For the first time I was aware that I desired to be challenged in my craft and practice. Spending time amongst the best educators in the state lit a fire that drove me to ever push the boundaries of my classroom.

Through the next couple of years I had the opportunity to lead an innovative STEM initiative at the school, obtain Board Certification, drive change in school and district science practice, and generally pursue whatever I found interesting. 2011-2015 were stimulating, challenging, and inspiring years for me. Coincidently, they are also the years recorded in my blog. 2015-2016 (the year of silence) has been different. My years spent running with the best in education have made it abundantly clear to me that advancement in the world of education is a paper game. In most of the rest of the working world skill is the prime currency. One can advance if they are good, regardless of their educational level. In my world, this simply isn’t the case. I could be the best and most decorated teacher in the country and never be allowed to hold any teaching job above the high school level because I don’t hold a Master’s degree. My thoughts regarding this system are many, and may be expounded upon later, but for now let us just leave it at my recognition of the need for more paper.

Entering this school year I held this recognition balanced against a promise to Jamie that I would not go back to school unless I knew my endgame and could figure out how to do it without putting us into debt. Those who are familiar with the world of tuition and student debt know the height of this hurdle. The vision of the end (A professorship in an education program) was materializing in the back of my mind, but the money seemed insurmountable. On a cold day in late October, 2015 I joined a few other Kenan Fellows and Alumni at the Hunt Library for a leadership development seminar. Materials distributed and digested that day were truly valuable, however, the most beneficial part of the gathering was a chance meeting with another fellow who was currently pursuing her PhD in science education at NC State. Her program was the program I had been eyeing from a distance, so I struck up a conversation. In short order I had my answer to the money problem. Some 90% of students in State’s program received assistantships that cover tuition and pay a stipend. There it was, a ladder over the hurdle. This new information, bundled with a growing sense of stagnation in my teaching, the recent nixing of a new initiative I was championing, and the diminishment of some of my leadership positions provided the needed motivation to take the leap.

I will not bore you with a long recollection of the details of the ensuing couple of months, but here are the highlights: I wrote and submitted a grad school application in four weeks; Studied for and took the GRE during the same four weeks; Was accepted to NC State’s PhD in science education program; Wrote and submitted an initial proposal for research in a week; and was awarded the prestigious Provost Scholar-Leader Fellowship. Which, by the way, will cover all costs for the next four years. Hurdle jumped!

As I stand here watching my last class take their final exam I am flooded with the ever-so-cliche bag of emotions. Endings are generally bittersweet. I’ve loved my eight years as a high school science teacher. I’ve told, and will continue to tell, anyone who asks, “That teaching is the thing that I was built to do.” I am positive that I will miss the energy of my students; the flickering of mental lightbulbs; pedagogical experiments on my classes; and interactions with my colleagues. Still, I have a deep sense that it is time to move on to the next chapter. I could not ask for any more clear indication that I am headed in the correct direction. My time has come and I move forward confident in the knowledge that, for now, my purpose as a high school educator has been fulfilled. What lies ahead? Hopefully four inspiring and challenge years of school then a professorship. At least that’s the plan …

I would be remiss if I were not to take a moment to thank everyone who has pushed me along the way. To Matt Sears, and the former North Carolina New Schools, thank you for pushing me to speak, dream, and do. To the Kenan Fellows Program, my journey began with you. Thank you for throwing me in with the best and continuing to give me opportunities to influence other educators. To Fritz Robinette, for being one of only two or three to be a continual source of hard feedback. Thank you for continual willingness to hear my crazy ideas, read/edit my talks, and write letters of recommendation. To Chris Hewitt for being my “right hand man” in everything. Thank you for standing as the backbone of the science department and anchor teams, always doing more than your fair share, and continually being on board for the journey. To my mom who first pegged me as an educator and kindly refrained from declaring “told you so” when I finally started teaching. Finally, to Jamie for being both my biggest fan and biggest critic; The only person that I can always rely on to give it to me straight; And a continual source of inspiration. Thank you for holding my hand as we step together into the unknown.

What’s next for the lab207 blog? Not much. As I transition out of one type of classroom and into another, I am going to let this blog go. I do hope to keep writing, though. So, look for a new blog to pop up in the future as a chronicle of my adventures in the world of academia. Thanks for reading.