When I look back on my teaching career, some of my favorite moments actually happened outside the classroom. For some reason, it’s refreshing to watch students outside the context of academics. And I think it’s extremely important for students to get to know their teachers as friendly people with interests and hobbies just like them.
Over the years, I have been involved in many student activities. I advised a student-run art gallery that hosted around five to nine art shows each year, including a district-wide show. I ran the literary magazine and the news broadcast club. The news program, designed for homeroom, celebrated student achievement, announced upcoming events, and had short, creative student-produced vignettes. We had a weatherman who famously warned students about an upcoming “polar vortex.”
I was also the assistant coach of the boys and girls swim teams for a long time. I’ll never forget going to the state championship on two separate occasions. And of course, a Taylor Swift singalong on a bus ride home. Sometimes swimmers would bleach their hair to get ready for a big meet, one even grew a mustache. I lost my voice so many times, I can’t count. When our swim team competed in the state playoffs, I came to school with butterflies thinking about how we could pull off a big win. I loved seeing swimmers in the hall on the day of the meet, and shouting, “You ready?!”
When I can, I cheer on my school’s sports teams and took a trip with my parents to watch our soccer team compete in the state championship. One year, our jazz band performed “Shake It Off” at my school’s first Friday night homecoming game. I love to catch our a cappella group around campus and our choir and orchestra performs at the chapel of a nearby university, an inspiring tradition. I like to go my local high school’s Friday night football games with my wife and three children because it’s always a packed house and the marching band is incredible. During one game at halftime, they honored families affected by cancer. Recently, my local high school invited my seven-year-old daughter’s soccer team to run out on the field with a graduating senior for the national anthem.
Field trips are also a lot of work, but worth the extra effort. I organized a school-wide poetry recitation contest through Poetry Out Loud and took a bus of kids to cheer on our poetry champion at a local theater. I also regularly attend the Dodge Poetry Festival, which takes place in New Jersey every year.
Some of the art shows my students helped organize and curate required tons of hours of planning and preparation. It often involved a lot of physical labor like painting and spackling or moving heavy pieces long distances. They had to answer emails, create flyers, and advertise for shows in the local paper. They often had to meet with journalists or for a few shows, the historical society, and tell stories about their research. Before each show, I had a routine of adjusting the track lighting so that it would hit the art at exactly the right angle. There’s no feeling quite like that moment right before the big show.
These types of moments outside the classroom inspire me to be a great teacher inside the classroom. No one will ever demand an encore after reading a great passage out loud. There will never be “bedlam” (go Phillies!) after an intense close reading. But it’s still important to bring a serious enthusiasm to what we do. I want to represent our school just as a coach does, or band director. I think it’s easy to forget that our students have real personalities and talents that they don’t always show in our class.
Almost all teachers struggle with the work-life balance. It’s not easy to be so involved in outside school activities, especially when you have a family. Most schools also don’t pay overtime or compensate teachers enough for working an extended work week or on weekends. A single sports game on the weekend can take up most of the day. I stopped coaching because I got home after a long commute around 7 PM, just as my kids were hungry, cranky, and headed to bed. Then I had to wake up as early as 5 AM for Saturday morning practices. Now I am involved in only one activity that takes place during a school-wide free period. I love these meaningful and fun school activities, but my wife and children will always come before my job and I will never take work home.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers