It’s been almost two weeks since I returned home from Portland and the AERO Conference. I have intentionally put off posting anything because I have been so overwhelmed with thoughts and ideas lately, that frankly, I had no idea where to start. Without exaggeration, this past month in general has been filled with so many life-changing experiences and I just wanted to make sure that I did them justice. More than interesting events, I believe these moments to be markers of turning points in my life. Because of their ongoing implications, what I have resolved to do in response to all this is just begin with some initial reflections and updates because I am certain that natural elaboration will come in future posts.
The first major event is that after 6 years of trying, my wife Nicole is pregnant with our first child. After so many moments of frustration and disappointment that go with the process of unsuccessfully making a baby, it has been a surreal month with news that the IVF we went through was successful. I think at this point, I was almost callous to the idea of us having a baby, mainly, I think, as an emotional protection tool. But two ultrasounds later, both of which allowed us to see and hear that little heartbeat, disbelief has turned to nervous excitement for the road that lay ahead for our family. The word ‘awesome’ was created for moments when the right descriptors are hard to find, so in this case, it’s perfectly appropriate.
Meanwhile, the AERO Conference exceeded every hope I had for it. More than anything, I went hoping to find answers for the direction I wanted to take my professional life. That’s an unrealistic expectation for any conference, but somehow, it came through, albeit in unexpected ways. Saddled with my frustrations with the limitations and restrictions of public schools, I think that part of me hoped to meet some people who would want me to join their amazing alternative school or start one with them. Instead, I left with a renewed sense of educational values and a determination to return to my school this year and design a class environment that allowed those values to be the centerpiece of all that we do.
At some point during the conference, I became aware that while these amazing, mostly private, alternative schools are doing things that I think all schools should do, the public school system needs people who are willing to stand up and fight for the education revolution that needs to take place on behalf of all the students who can only afford to attend public school. On the second to last day of the conference, attendees were given an opportunity to speak in front of the group and share their thoughts with everyone. Now this is about as out of my comfort zone as something can be, but I felt compelled to share something that had been leaping inside me. My heart pounding and my voice shaking, I shared the following insight (paraphrased as best as I can remember): “As a Social Science major at San Diego State, I spent a significant time learning about the Civil Rights Movements and the Free Speech Movements that took place in the 1960s. I found myself in awe and envious of the members of those movements and their opportunity to be part of something amazing and revolutionary, often wondering if I would have had the courage to participate in them myself had I lived in that era, wishing that there was something equally important for me to be a part of. Now I realize that this revolution in education is the movement of my era, and that I am proud and excited to fulfill something that I had dreamed about years before.” This moment in front of the AERO audience is significant for me not just for the realization, but for the symbolic decision I made to get up and address the group. If I am to be part of a movement, I must be willing to take risks, step out of my comfort zone, speak up, and take action.
While I believe that I have been doing good things in my classroom these past 8 years, I saw huge opportunities for improvement, mainly in creating an atmosphere that most effectively allows students to reach their potential as thinkers, decision-makers, and community members. Armed with ideas, I have been feverishly working to figure out how to put all of this into action. I want our class to be a community where students feel like they have dignity, are trusted, and have a voice that carries weight in the class. The class will be designed and run democratically, with my role changing from one of authority to one of advisor and partner in their education. I have been reading, talking, and thinking about the implications of such a class structure, and to be honest, I am not sure how all of this will play out, but I can say that it will all be done with love. The first day of school is in 4 days, and I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to start back.