Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thanks, y'all.

Nearly 5 years ago, my (then) boyfriend and I graduated from our beloved alma mater with no jobs and nowhere to go but our parents' houses. Unfortunately for us, that meant being hundreds of miles apart as his parents had retired to the Mecca better known as Myrtle Beach. We knew teaching jobs were hard to come by in our home state and decided to begin a new adventure in a place where they needed teachers- North Carolina.

We got a lot of flack when we decided to leave the Northeast....
  • "Are you crazy? You don't even know anyone there!"
  • "Is everyone going to be stupider?" (Jokes on you all, stupider isn't even a word)
  • "Now don't start coming home and saying 'y'all' or anything"
  • "You'll love the winters, but aren't the summers the worst?"
But let's face it, when you're 22 and trying to be near someone you love none of that really matters. Not to mention $32K sounds like a TON of money when you've been living off student loan refunds and minimum wage retail jobs. This adventure was going to be great. We knew it. 

We weren't wrong.  We got married, got our first apartment, and adopted the most wonderful dog that's ever lived in our time here. We have made lifelong friends with both people and food groups (pimento cheese is my bffaeaeaeaeae). We've been given the opportunity to grow and lead in supportive environments, surrounded by people who believe in us. 

As I pack up my classroom to begin the next phase of my life-  near family and with the intention of "settling down" a bit- I can't help but reflect on everything my time and the amazing people I've met in North Carolina have taught me. 

Southern charm is a real thing
There is truly something that is unique about being in the South. No one is kidding when they say that life moves at a different pace. I have honed my North Carolina accent, learned the difference between Eastern and Western BBQ (none of which involve hot dogs or hamburgers....learned that one the hard way), and developed a lifelong relationship with pimento cheese. I've seen the value in small communities of people who grew up together and support each other and I've seen the value of living in a city full of transplants where everyone is looking for a new sort of "family." I now understand what it means to "get your picture made," get a "buggy" at the grocery story, or (my personal favorite) ask a student to take a "toboggan" off their head. It has nothing to do with sleds. I know. I've learned the power of "Yes, Ma'am" or "No, Sir" and have seen students who grew up valuing these ideals. And northerners who haven't experienced this- there are school bus races on a dirt track at Charlotte Motor Speedway- #priceless. 

There is nothing more powerful than the people that surround you
I have been blessed to work with some of the most amazing people in my time here. I took my current job to be near my now husband, but I got so much more than that. I think about my coworkers (who became family) like a cast of characters from a great ensemble sitcom. If anyone wants to make a show about us,'d be hilarious. You can't make up the stuff that happens to us. But more than just keeping each other laughing, I met a group of people who challenged me to be better. As a first year middle school teacher, I was all about structure. Inquiry and collaboration were great in the time in my lesson plan that I'd specifically set aside for it. I have learned how to embrace teachable moments, how to have fun with my students, and how to create a culture of collaboration and teamwork in my room. I have seen peers who push themselves constantly to be better, knowing that every small detail of our craft that we hone helps a child. I've had my eyes opened to the connection of my discipline with others and the way which genuine collaboration should work with colleagues. I've been trusted to be part of a team in which everyone knows their role and demonstrates the synergy that comes only from working towards a shared vision. 

Vulnerability makes you a better leader
I'm not someone who loves being wrong. I'm can vividly remember my Grandpa (lovingly and jokingly) saying to me "Why didn't you get a 100%?" when I came home with a 99% on a test. It's just my nature- I strive for perfection. But let's face the one's perfect. And the only way to innovate and to truly lead is to be able to face this head on and grow from your weaknesses. It has been a lesson that's been learned slowly, but I now see it as key to my teaching. 

If I hadn't come here, I'd never have been able to experiment with STEM education while being supported by a huge federal grant, pilot blended learning in math for an entire district, or design and build my own version of an AP Calculus course to support students that needed it. I felt a huge burden of trust placed upon me and knew that the only way to not let my kids down was to make sure they had a voice. I began to tear down the wall when possible to let students know that I was intentionally designing the things we did in class with a purpose in mind and I was open to their suggestions. I now seek their feedback as often as possible and have used it to better my methods in general and in my specific classes. I've grown so much from doing the things I was scared of doing and I hope to never lose that drive. 

Sometimes the biggest strides come from difficult situations
North Carolina's educational system hasn't always been considered a gleaming beacon of light when compared to it's 49 competitors. In September 2015, Forbes rated this fair state the 2nd worst for teachers in the nation. So did WalletHub. Things aren't great. But I've learned that these trying conditions can lead to truly tremendous results. 

First and foremost, every teacher I've met in my time here has truly been "in it for the kids." They may not spend their whole career teaching and they may not have a ton of advanced degrees, but you don't teach here for the money. These are people who give their time day in and day out making the equivalent of what they could make as a manager at a local gas station. People are in education here because they love kids and that can create a powerful environment for our munchkins to learn.

The other advantage of our educational system being labelled "broken" is that people are trying to do things to fix it. I was amazed during my interview process in other states that I have been at the forefront of technology integration, blended and flipped learning, Professional Learning Community implementation, UBD, and more. Things that I just assumed were commonplace were innovative to some districts with whom I spoke. I have had the experience of facilitating a PLC for years, something many places are just beginning to embrace. I have been a part of EdCamps, I've gotten to learn from and facilitate a huge amount of professional development, and I've taught in a school that encouraged us to try new things. I've been blessed with administrators who believe that if you just teach good math, the test scores should follow.  

I teach kids, not math
I remember one of my graduate professors saying that elementary school teachers love kids, middle school teachers love teaching, and high school teachers love their content. The stereotype of a high school teacher is the slightly professorial expert who is more interested in droning on about their subject than the kids in their room. I love math....I really do. But I've learned that you never get back the moments with kids that you let slip away. I've had to reflect on the things I didn't say to a student who died too young. I've collected supplies for a student who lost everything in house fire. I've sat with a student and helped them fill out their FAFSA when they didn't have the support at home to do so. And as great as some of my math activities may or may not have been, they won't be what I remember most. The hardest part about leaving has been saying goodbye to these kids. My kids. I'm so glad I've learned to connect with them in a way I never expected. 

Although family (and better pay and more respect for my profession) beckon me back to where I grew up, I am so fortunate to have spent 5 years here learning and growing. I bring so much of what I've learned here back home with me and I'm so thankful for that. 

So consider this my thank you, North Carolina. Thank you for your beaches, your mountains, your quirky neighborhoods, your sunny Saturdays spent with friends, your Panther's games, and your countless new adventures. Thank you for the 60 degree snow days, the pollen all over my car, and the rainy morning that gave us a whole garden to ourselves as my now hubs proposed. Thank you for my puppy, the happy stray that we couldn't have adopted from any other Humane Society. Thanks for teaching me to use the word "y'all" naturally in a sentence (Northerners, get over it; it's so much more efficient). Thank you for your kiddos, who each day brought me joy, laughs, and the occasional headache. Thank you for people who trusted me enough to encourage me to grow and lead. Thank you for giving me friends who I know will stand the test of time. My time here will never be forgotten and you will be missed (especially the first time in 5 years that I have to shovel snow). 


  1. This post is lovely. As someone who also went from the Northeast to the South (NC, GA, and AL) and now back again, it warmed my heart in so many ways! Where are you moving TO? Welcome back "home!"

    1. Thank you!!! I know our experience isn't unique (so many people return back to where they grew up), but I'm so glad we had our southern adventure! I am moving to upstate NY...excited to get back to family and better bagels and pizza!