Today was my second day of new teacher orientation, another eight hours of information overload, and yet already fresh faces feel familiar. Crammed in an auditorium that’s a virtual black hole for cell service, my school’s latest hires are bonding as much through shared confusion over login credentials as in our mutual dissatisfaction at a forced farewell to the sweet summer still converging outside brick and mortar. The hectic hype stills as I write into the dark, humid August night, bound to resume its reign with the sun’s return tomorrow.
The sun and students keep coming up, year after eleven years; in fact, the future is so bright, according to this district, that Human Resources handed each educator a pair of sunglasses on the way into training this morning as a symbolic gesture. Every teacher undergoes orientation when entering a school system, and we generally expect little. I, for one, hope I join the seasoned faculty for pre-service with payroll, benefits, and online accounts in place so I can engage my brain in curricular endeavors and school-specific initiatives. I didn’t anticipate our training would impact deeply, much less inspire.
The sunglasses, paired with an exercise where we walked twenty steps and shared with strangers our best idea to usher each student into a bright future, ironically opened my eyes. Perhaps, after some years of service in any profession, we enter into required development opportunities a bit jaded or skeptical, having fought heavy eyelids out of respect to sub-par PD instructors during too many summer sessions when we were all too aware of those snoozing peacefully on the beach getting a tan while we endured yet another training that might never find application in the classroom.
Granted, even wading through benefit options can be a positive experience if you’re sitting beside the right people. At my old school, we found each other naturally, and those bonds grew during my four years of in-service in the cafeteria with a temperamental, portable sound system. Maybe experience put us ahead of the learning curve, but I’ve made fast friends with a couple of transfers from my side of the water and a recent college grad still ironing out certification. Though I’d awoken with hesitancy to leave my bed, body still resisting the early to bed mentality necessitated by the inevitable early to rise mornings, figuring out which grasses will be greener and which once more sparse was punctuated by laughter and sarcasm that won our foursome some annoyed glances.
The future certainly felt brighter today. Even now, after the heavy clouds unburdened themselves leaving a methodical beat dripping from my drain pipes, I’m smiling at the thought. Sure, the sunglasses seemed gimmicky at first, but we didn’t need to wear them comically indoors to understand the symbolic sentiment handed to us by those responsible for our growth, investing in us so we can foster student growth all year long. Two weeks from today, we’ll begin to provide return on that investment, and we’re huddled in classes in school squinting at the projector screen so we’ll be ready by then.
During one session, a trainer mentioned they had more online resources now than actual “human” resources, gearing the hour toward ensuring we could access them and take advantage. By midmorning, I realized that I had three human resources in my pocket already, and they might be the best takeaways from this district’s new teacher orientation. It’s almost magical how various aspects of our myriad lives meet, marry, and intersect to make me believe a bright future not only awaits us… we’re existing in it already. At lunch, over mediocre chicken salad, the four of us uncovered a shared interest in Once Upon a Time, taking care to avoid spoilers for those of us still binge-watching to catch up to the apparently controversial latest season. The TV series chronicles the journeys of fairy tale characters living under a curse in a modern town with no memory of their previous lives as villains or heroes. I thought I’d introduce them in my blog with pseudonyms derived from the show, but after our session on equity, I’m finding stereotyping more appropriate in a social context.
From the title, I jokingly admitted to my teammates that I thought this was going to be finance-related. Instead, we were asked to identify ourselves on a worksheet using cultural terms, then answer a series of questions. I chose Italian-American woman, and I could answer yes to almost all questions, that I could live and attend church where I wanted, find food I like and images of people like me in magazines, etc. The trainer asked us to assume a different identity and answer the questions again. I thought of my very first friend four years ago at the start of a different leg of my career, and quickly sobered at the realization that equality wasn’t equity for a gay, Hispanic professional.
The exercise was intended to help us understand that we have no idea what students are carrying in their physical or figurative backpacks on the first day of school. We see what people want us to see. The first thing that comes to mind when I remember my Spanish teacher friend is his infectious smile and contagious laugh that warmed my spirit during busy days at school and Wednesday night dinners at my place. We talked for hours, at work and the gym and on my front porch… but I’d never considered the unique challenges he faced daily and hid behind that epic smile… challenges that didn’t touch me. That realization touched me.
Our youngest addition to the English faculty sat to my right, identifying herself as a white female professional. She’s joining us from Disneyworld, and you’d never guess this sweet Pennsylvania girl spent her summer playing Cruella De Vil. Had I not died my hair blonde, students might believe we were sisters. We used our lunch break to head to our school and work in our classrooms, side by side with windows opening to the courtyard. My principal dubbed me her unofficial mentor since we’re tackling the eleventh grade. He anticipated she would benefit from my experience, but he couldn’t have known how I needed her youthful optimism, positivity, and un-jaded wide-eyed wonder to remind me why I started teaching in the first place. She doesn’t fit into a fairy tale. She’s writing a new one, though the heroine is eerily familiar.
To my left in that session were two experienced teachers who taught together in a different school last year, and though I didn’t peek at their cultural identities, these thirty-somethings are as unique from me as they are from each other. One is married, makes her own coffee creamer, and is perhaps the first teacher I’ve met that might be more geeky and tech savvy than I, with light skin that suggest beach visits are limited to an hour because she has twenty other things she wants to dive into that afternoon. Her drive is palpable, her sarcasm is disarming, and I can’t wait to find out what she’s got in her back pack.
The last of our foursome is a single black male with a kid in grade school and another just in college, but he’s too young at heart for me to believe it. I’d met him over the weekend at a gathering with our department, and he saved me a seat at breakfast yesterday as promised. We have a lot in common, like quitting smoking and taking up vaping, our aversion of Apple products, and our affection for sarcasm, and undoubtedly, our attention deficits are magnified while sitting together. His answers from the initial questionnaire in that session made me wonder what I don’t know yet that’s going to continue to round out my perspective of myself and others. He’s strong and kind and curious.
When they handed me sunglasses in the auditorium lobby this morning, my eyes were still half shut. After a day learning alongside my new teacher friends, I’m awake and alert and ready for the future we’ve already ushered in… even if I would have been content to just stay where I was before. Our fresh-faced foursome has bonded as much in our shared interests as in our idiosyncrasies, personal plights, and our responses to cultural stigmas.
Today was confirmation that I am right where I am supposed to be, living my best, bright future, writing a new story with a resurrected heroine I thought I lost back in Nashville. What’s more, I’m looking forward to my morning drive across the water to work because of these three people, newly positioned in my life. Perhaps I’m catching some of our youngest’s optimism, but I think we’re going to make each other better in areas the Human Resources department doesn’t cover in handbook.