Full and By - Sailing Large
Charting Life's Course in Scattered Words
Were you on pitch? Did you match me?
Waiting for my Real Life to Begin
“Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I'll keep checking the horizon
And I'll check my machine, there's sure to be that call
It's gonna happen soon ...
It's just that times are lean
I'm waiting for my real life to begin”
That’s how I felt only one year ago. I hadn’t found a permanent job. I was sharing an apartment in Galesburg, but still spending a lot of time at home. I was full of doubt, full of apprehension about my future. I was waiting. And I wasn’t even all that sure I had a plan.
Well the wait is over. In April I took a job teaching high school English at West Central High School. All of a sudden after waiting and worrying for months about finding a job it was time to get to work. I had a seemingly infinite amount of planning, reading, and grading. This sudden, jarring transition from having too much free time to having none has been an unforgiving but rewarding experience thus far.
Photo taken by Jim Keefe in Henderson County, November 2010
West Central is a rural district located along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. It is also surrounded by cornfields, now I know you are thinking, especially people from Elmwood, ‘We live in the middle of a cornfield!’ Elmwood is not as deep in the fields as West Central. A few stats about West Central. Their mascot is the Heat. The high school has an enrollment of 313 students less than one student per square mile. Every student seems to own a circa 1984 Chevy pickup truck, with a lift kit, dual stacks, and a Cummings diesel engine. The first day of deer season is an official school holiday. In Henderson County you are either four wheeling, coyote hunting, or living in van down by the river. Possibly, doing all three. I have become the official interperter of all things country or hillbilly to the other new teachers, having lived my early years only a half mile from Henderson County.
Yes, you should laugh, because on its face, all of these things are funny. However while you are laughing, you should also realize that lurking just beneath this superficial hillbilliidom the vast majority of students at West Central are great students. West Central is a high poverty district, and with poverty comes a myriad of excuses students could use to justify why they can’t do well at school. However most of the students do remarkably well. Even though after school many of these students also have to work a job to help support their family they still get their homework done. Even though many students do not have computers or internet access at home, they still find a way to do research. Even though things are much, much harder for these students than it was for me in high school, they still rise to the occasion.
I don’t mean to say times aren’t tough everywhere, that there aren’t people in the Elmwood school district with problems. The point I am making is simply this, when you see a West Central student driving his/her aged pick up don’t dismiss them. Even though they take the first day of deer season off, even though the students wear camo tuxedos to prom, the students are still every bit as bright and capable as the students anywhere.
Any teacher can tell you that the first few years are intense. There is more work to be done than there are hours in the day. When you are new you have to plan all your classes on top of being in charge of the school newspaper, yearbook, and making all the athletic programs.
All of this can easily become overwhelming. What keeps me from stressing out are the people I work with. I was hired along with 5 other new teachers at the beginning of this year, and these people have formed a strong and caring support group for me. Whenever I am feeling especially low, the others come together and support me. I could not do the job without them.
We have developed a tradition of eating at an undisclosed location in Burlington every weekend. And usually at least once during the week we eat at the local café, Country Fun. We eat there often enough that we have our own table and the waitresses (who are usually our students) know what we order. Having good friends to eat with gives us all a chance to unwind, get out of teacher mode, and not think about school for a few hours.
Well I have been ignoring my grading for long enough- its time to get back to work.