I have a story to tell. And it’s going to be one of very few positive ones on this blog.
When I joined Teach For America, I talked a little bit online with a corps member who grew up in suburban Houston. When we both moved to the Valley, we became quick friends, despite being worlds away – her in the McAllen area and I out in the country. She would often talk about spending her middle school years at a middle school in this Houston suburb, which encouraged project-based learning and, truthfully, just learning, rather than an obsession with test taking.
When I planned to move to the Houston area, I intentionally ignored the district that she attended for quite a while. The district felt far away from the city, and I hadn’t really spent any time in the area. While other districts seemed to call my name from afar, this one didn’t. But when I discovered that finding a position wasn’t going to be as simple as I thought, I decided to open up to said district. And I really liked what I saw. Great schools in great communities with dedicated teachers. And true diversity: students from different backgrounds together in the same school; not TFA’s definition of diversity – working at a school that is either 100% Hispanic or 100% African American.
Several weeks ago, my MTLD met with me in my classroom, and expressed her excitement over my relocation to Houston, where she knew that I would be much happier. But when she asked where I was applying to work, it was worded something like, “Surely you are applying with YES and KIPP, right? Or Houston ISD’s Apollo 20 schools?”
I forgot how I responded. But truthfully, I wasn’t looking at these schools. I felt those charter school districts and those specific HISD schools that draw TFA corps members and alumni weren’t where I needed to be if I was to gain what I wanted to from this next teaching experience.
After sending off letters and resumes, I was offered an interview at a Title I school in this district a few weeks ago. After spending a half-day at work on a Thursday, I floored it out of the Valley and headed to suburban Houston. Passing school busses and traversing through areas of Houston I’d never seen before, I rolled into the parking lot of the school about 15 minutes before the interview. It all seemed to go well. I didn’t get to meet the principal, but I was so impressed and truly enjoyed conversing with those who interviewed me. The fit of the school just seemed to be a perfect match with my abilities, but I didn’t want to get too excited.
I left the school and headed back to the Valley, with the plan of teaching the next day. Sugar Land, Victoria, Goliad, and Beeville all passed without issue. I entered George West on US-59 around 11 p.m., and turned south onto US-281. But about 20 miles south of George West, after hours of smooth driving, a rock-like object suddenly popped up in my lane. Before I could turn to avoid it, my car’s tire indicator light came on, and I had trouble steering. I managed to pull over to the side of the road, and was stuck, with the belief that I had a flat tire.
After using Google Maps to try to figure out where I was, I called the Hyundai roadside assistance number. While it felt like the middle of nowhere, it turned out that I was only about an hour west of Corpus Christi. A Canadian Hyundai representative who was very “sory” about the whole ordeal sent a tow truck to tow me to the Hyundai dealership in Corpus, but after waiting about an hour, I learned that the tow truck had hit a car on the way to help me, and could no longer assist.
A second tow truck eventually arrived, driven by Kenny, a friendly former-Marine. He shared stories about his views on gun control, his pride over being armed as we spoke, and his certainty that Obama had found a loophole for a third term. Kenny also informed me that I had not one flat tire, but two.
The Hyundai dealership in Corpus Christi happens to be the only dealership in Corpus Christi that doesn’t close its gates at night, so Kenny dropped me and my vehicle off in front of the service bay. While I considered getting a hotel room, it was 3:30 a.m. by this point, and it seemed a poor use of funds to get a hotel room for just three or four hours. So I tried sleeping in the car. I found it impossible to sleep in the driver’s seat, and found the backseat much more comfortable.
Unfortunately, it was one of the coldest nights in recent memory in South Texas, and the interview clothes that I was wearing were not enough to keep me warm. I thought about driving to a 24-hour Walmart or Target to buy a blanket, but then remembered that I only had two functional tires. I was also extremely distracted by my phone, as this was the night of the Boston Marathon manhunt and I was glued to Twitter. So I froze and tried to sleep as the hours went by.
At 7 a.m., after calling in absent to work, the head of the service department arrived at the dealership, and saw me in the car. We talked, and he planned to get me on my way as soon as possible. Unfortunately, he soon informed me that I had not only two flat tires, but the object that I had hit had ruined my rims too, turning this into a $1,200+ repair. To make matters worse, he had no rims, so the repair would not be completed until the next day. Because I had nobody to stay with in Corpus, I got a rental car, began to drive home, realized my house keys were at the Hyundai dealership, drove back, got the keys, and then drove the remaining three hours back to the rural Rio Grande Valley.
The next day, I drove back to Corpus Christi in the rental car. Before returning it, I stopped at a very shady Stripes gas station. I quickly fueled up and quickly threw out the fast food wrappers in the car. As it turned out, I also threw out my credit card. After returning the rental car and failing to pay for the repair, I went back to the rental car lot, realized I threw out the card at Stripes, went back to the dealership, cancelled the credit card, paid with alternate means, got in my car, and finally made it back home, frustrated at having dropped around $1,500 in total on an attempt at a job I’d probably never get.
A week went by, and I never heard back from the school I interviewed at. I took it to mean that it was a lost cause, but didn’t give up hope on the district. I headed up to the district this past weekend for its annual job fair, and had great conversations and even interviews with different middle schools. All the while, I ignored the table of the school that I initially interviewed at.
All of a sudden, on Monday morning, I received a phone call from a Houston-area area code. It was the principal of the school that I had interviewed at on that fateful Thursday afternoon. When I returned his call, he told me that he had spent the past week sitting on an offer while trying to check references with administrators from my current school, but nobody was responding. I approached my administration, calls were made, and a few minutes later, I had a verbal job offer from the school to teach eighth grade language arts.
Later that evening, I signed a letter of intent with the district, and for the past two days, I have been receiving constant welcome e-mails and phone calls from my new co-workers. I couldn’t be more excited with how things have turned out in the end, and I just can’t wait to begin. My new school is a close community, but it’s one that I’m already being accepted into. While I remain committed to my current students, I can’t help but think about next year. I’m going to be able to focus so much more on teaching, on turning my eighth graders from middle schoolers into high school students, and arguably, on myself.
I like to think of the whole rock incident as the personified version of the Valley, in the final act of this TFA adventure drama:
ME [thinking]: Wow, I’d really like to work at that school I just interviewed at.
RIO GRANDE VALLEY [concerned]: Oh no. Sounds like that interview went well. I’m about to lose the language arts teacher with the highest STAAR scores in a three-county area! How dare he leave… I’ll show that puto!
[RIO GRANDE VALLEY places rock in prime spot in travel lane on US-281]
This isn’t the last post that I’ll make here. But knowing the negative tone that emanates from many of my posts, I did want the world to know that no matter how hard it is to see at times, there is light at the end of the two-year tunnel.