Nine years ago I had two job offers: one as fulltime faculty at our little local college, teaching composition; and the other for our local school district, teaching writing and art in juvenile corrections. The juvenile corrections job was offered by the district, not the facility. Schoolteachers are hired to go “inside” and teach kids. In this case, two teachers split the day –and the other teacher was a dynamic young woman whose approach was just like mine: engage, enliven, give experiences, care about kids, care about learning!
I didn’t want a school district job. I liked teaching college kids, mature learners who took responsibility for their behaviors. I wasn’t ready for resistance and the sneaky snotty behavior that sometimes pops up in public school. I was prepared to turn down the sch0ol district, but the Youth in Custody director offered a tour of the facility.
I fell in love with it. The YIC director stood in the parking lot after and said, “You need to take this job, Cathy. This job is for you.”
The program inside the facility was all about fresh starts, new learnings, and trying out new behaviors. Thus I came to teach piano lessons, modern dance, personal essay, anatomy and physiology, recorder playing, all kinds of painting, drawing, writing–singing! That’s just a small selection of all the interesting stuff we do.
Three years later, part of the facility closed due to budget constraints, and I was asked (politely, kindly) to teach half day in the alternative high school and later in a junior high. By that time, I had added a visual arts endorsement to my masters in literature and writing (and secondary certificate), so I became an art teacher. I like teaching art at my junior high–with a principal and staff that loves art and supports all my meanderings.
Nine years later, the economy crashes and our budgets are slashed, then slashed again. Our district loses more than twenty teachers, and they must figure out how to staff all the schools.
The alternative high loses three fulltime staff. The district assigns the juvenile corrections job to another teacher all day, instead of splitting the day, and assigns me to the alternative high. I’ve taught there before. It’s a good place, and I love the staff there.
But that means I must leave the thing I do best–teaching in lock-up, teaching the kids in juvenile corrections. Think about it. It takes a certain mindset to deal with kids ages 10-18, with all kinds of problems, academic levels, mental illnesses, criminal records, home situations. You never know who’s going to be there on any particular day. You need to be able to be friendly but firm. You need to be funny and smart. You need to love kids who have been hurt, kicked around, abused, neglected, and punished by difficult lives.
I’m that person. I “get” the facility mission to help teach kids to live better, differently, more clean, more vibrant, more interested. I love the staff working in the facility and they love me: we’re family. This is longterm commitment here.
Boom! Next year, I’m gone. I can hardly breathe when I think of it, and I’ve known now for more than a month.
I know the district is dealing with nearly-impossible exigencies, but I still wish that we could remember that it’s kids we are serving–and these kids, these locked-up kids, these neglected kids–they need serving, too.