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  • Writer's pictureJan Avellana

I'm Still Here: Thoughts on Teaching

It was the year 2000, and I was attending one of my first faculty meetings as a full time teacher. At the meeting was an activity centered around teachers reflecting on their implementation of the new No Child Left Behind standards, introduced by then, President Bush. You were supposed to look at the chart papers posted on the walls and join the group that best represented your current level of implementation of "The Standards". The goal, was to get to the Island of No Child Left Behind", and you were either getting ready to leave the shore (still learning about implementation), on the water and rowing towards the island (some implementation of the standards) or already on the Island of No Child Left Behind. After some animated discussion, the teachers dutifully gravitated towards a group they best identified with, and I felt the rising heat of shame and anger overtake me—shame, because I clearly did not belong in any of the groups and more alarmingly this entire system of education, and secondly, anger, because I detested being pigeon-holed and labeled into a neat category and I wanted to shout, "Who the hell really WANTS to go to the Island of No Child Left Behind?!" Though I didn't shout out that afternoon, I was the only one in the room who not only refused to join a group, and in fact, made my own group of one. The activity leader gently chided me to follow directions. "Join a group Jan, any group!" to which I quietly, but firmly said "I AM in a group.” When asked in front of the faculty why I was having difficulty engaging properly in the activity, I simply said, "I don't want to go to the Island of No Child Left Behind. I'm on land and wondering why anyone wants to go there." And I stayed put, there in my own group, much to the frustration of those in charge of the faculty meeting. I'm sure it's at this point that my principal had his first serious concerns about hiring me. Little did I know it at the time, but this would be the first of many experiences being a misfit in an educational system that seemed equally confused with me, as I was with it. Since then, I have evolved as a person, along with my teaching practice. The important things--my burning heart I have to see that no student or teacher is left behind in a an archaic system that doesn't serve anyone but itself, my outside-the-boxness, and bent towards questioning the status quo--these haven't dissolved, only strengthened. I'm still figuring out where I belong as an educator, and sometimes I despair that there isn't a place that I truly belong in this world of teaching. And I'm still here, still looking for my tribe, still inviting others to set sail with me for different, sweeter lands where children can be children, and teachers are honored for being passionately caring and imperfectly human.


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