Goodbye, Mr. David!

The first day of school is today. Bushy-tailed and bright-eyed students — with rejuvenated minds ready for learning after a long summer break — will begin to fill the halls with joy this morning. Teachers will hear the noisy sounds of adolescent conversations echo through the hallway as friends get reacquainted before the start of classes. The clock will tick, and it will soon be time for students to take their seats.

But when they take their seats in the computer science lab, their teacher won’t be there. I won’t be there. And it saddens me. I’m going to miss teaching more than any job I’ve ever had before.

Standing with Okey Dokey in front of my whiteboard.
Me standing with Okey Dokey in front of my whiteboard

I began my seven-month career as a teacher in Nov. 2015. It saved me from a miserable experience as a journalist. And I learned that it doesn’t matter what it says on that stupid piece of paper they want you to get (journalism degree), you can do anything you want with it. The rest is just showing up. I didn’t know I had the chops to be a computer science teacher until I was teaching computer science (for grades 3rd-8th).

And I loved it. While at the school, I turned down a managing editor position at a local paper. It was likely an opportunity to make two times what I was making at the school. But I didn’t want it. The teaching job came out of a dream, and I was happy. I was fulfilled. I don’t know why the job was taken from me, but I have to assume it’s for the best.

When something upsetting happens to us, like losing a favorite job, it’s human nature to want to think that it all happens for a reason. Right now, the words of my own poem (about the hokey pokey) are being thrown back in my face: “So, now you say, ‘I lost my job, and can’t pay my bills, how is the hokey pokey going to help?’”

By turning it around. You can find a reason in anything if you look at it long enough. It’s all about perspective. And if you can focus on: 1) what was good, 2) what is good, and 3) what will be good, in spite of all the events beyond your control, then you’ll see that everything is going to be okey dokey. And it will be.

While this teaching job came out of a dream, being a writer (on my own terms) is my dream job. It’s what affords me the most happiness. And my dismissal from being Mr. David has afforded me the time and freedom to pursue those desires.

Quote from 5th grade student.

However, my short stint as an educator will not soon be forgotten. The best part about teaching — besides the students keeping your on your toes every second of everyday — is how much you can learn. My students taught me new things, daily.

Among those things was a daily restoration of faith in the future of humanity. When it comes to being privileged, these private-school students have everything they want or need, and then some. Despite their blind spots, students demonstrated a level of compassion beyond many adults. They were highly motivated, persistent, and determined everyday. It was inspiring to watch them work on their end-of-the-semester coding projects last year. Some coded a video game, others made an app, and some made websites.

Me DJing the school dance.
Me DJing the school dance.

Even now, as I continue traveling further down memory lane and my emotions build up from an overwhelming feeling of loss, I know that I had great times at that school. I know I helped create some great times at that school. And I know that great times will continue to happen at that school with or without me. By choice, those moments will always outweigh the negativity surrounding how my tenure ended.

Okey Dokey shoulder puppy.

“We learned more from you in the first two weeks than we did in three months with the other computer science teacher,” a student told me last December.

I was in disbelief that I had been of any help to my students at that point. And when you take into account that there was Thanksgiving and Christmas break for the first two months I started, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for teaching. Especially not for a first-year teacher who had to write his syllabus and lessons plans on the fly for the first few months.

But as I listened to the student explain to me what he learned — from computer science acronyms, keyboarding hot keys, and proper coding syntax — I realized that I had taught him something. It’s a humbling feeling to know that you’ve made an impact on a student’s life.

I felt honored when students came to me with their personal problems. I was told by one student that a lot of students chose to come to me because they knew I would never betray their confidence. Compared to other adults in their life, I treated them with the respect of a real person. No matter their issue, they weren’t just “kids” with inconsequential dilemmas to me. Sometimes all I could do to help was just listen, hear them out, and give them a supportive, “You got this!”

Quote from 6th grade student.

If my students remember only three things I taught them: what it’s all about (the hokey pokey), that computers are tools for productivity (my classroom creed), and to push past perceived failures to reach their dreams, then I’ll have done my job.

And here’s a few more pieces I will continue to teach, and would have taught, if given the opportunity:

There are such things as dragons (and unicorns, fairies, and wizards): Your imagination holds power beyond your ability to comprehend. The glimpses of what your dreams could be are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the greatness that could be obtained. This will not be an easy thing for you to explain or describe to just anyone, and many will not understand the purpose of the image you can so plainly see in your head. Do not be discouraged. You’re not the only one who can see it. All you need to do is get out of your head, and spend your time turning your fantasy into a reality.

Living in a van down by the river is not a bad life: Provided you’re not hurting anyone, how you choose to live your life is nobody’s business. What you like, is what you like. As digital natives, you are unwittingly absorbing countless amounts of information about what you should like. Media from all angles is bombarding you with advertisements with all the things you just “have to have.” Don’t buy into it. Hear the words of good teachers who will present you with all of your options without a hint of their preference. There’s more than one way to live this life. Don’t blindly believe what “they say” is good or bad just because they said it. Find out, for yourself, what’s good for you. Then, act on that good and it will spread a positive force throughout all areas of your life. Get the toys you want, but remember that they can also be tools for productivity. (And a Volkswagen van makes a great toy, home, vehicle, and mobile content studio.)

Do your best with NATTO: No Attachment To The Outcome (NATTO). It’s our attachment to the idea of what we think something might be that causes disappointment. Life is fluid, and it’s always changing. Those who don’t adapt, don’t survive. The best way to adapt is to let go of our attachments. Let go of the assumptions you have based on past experiences. Not all situations are the same and you might miss something if you immediately dismiss an idea without some thoughtful analysis of the context. Keep your mind open to any eventuality.

Middle school is tough: Many teachers said middle schoolers were the worse to teach. They said they’re going through puberty and are complete emotional chaos. And my personal experience of going through middle school was no picnic. But while all that may be true, middle schoolers are really the best to teach. It’s in the confusion of complex emotional chaos that we learn most about ourselves. True learning. Combine that with an environment of education, where teachers are excited to teach and students eager to learn, then you’ve got something special. The answer is simple, but it’s not easy.


What’s next for me?

Well, you’re looking at it. On most days, you’ll find me here. This is where I will continue to chase my dreams of writing (gonzo journalizing) for a living. For those of you wondering… Yes, I’m doing it all while live in my van. And, so far, I’ve loved every second of it.

#vanlife manifesto
#vanlife manifesto
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