I discovered it was a gorgeous, sunny September day only after winding up towards Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge, away from the choking smoke of yet more Oregon forest fires. I’d packed my laptop, interview questions for teachers, and theories about teachers’ unions.
My stomach demanded attention when I arrived at Timberline Lodge around noon, so I ate the first of many road-trip meals in my car, then headed out to explore. I wandered through the hallways and stairwells of the lodge, in awe of the huge timbers used in construction. A slightly fatigued dragging crept over me. I snapped a selfie on the front porch as the wind whipped my hair into a frenzy, then slowly returned to my car.
My little white sports sedan ate up the curves heading down the mountain as I began to wonder what was eating up my stomach. Warm, nauseating waves went through me. My skin was sweaty, my thinking foggy. I concluded I was, for the millionth time, suffering a bout of food poisoning. I’m not sure my apologies were well received at the fruit stand where I heaved my lunch overboard. It wouldn’t be the last time I ended up moaning and groaning from an upset stomach on the trip. Little did I know I would be heart sick as well, as I peeled back layers of research revealing devious schemes against educators. It served to strengthen my resolve to write to you, my fellow teachers.
I can look back on that first day and laugh now. Reminiscing and revisiting conversations with teachers mixes with continued research and vigilant watching of all education-related news.
For months after returning from my travelling and interviewing, my desk was a 3×3 foot card table. I huddled by an oil heater, my feet scrunched into wool socks and fuzzy-lined boots, and typed away. The tiny living quarters were temporary as I searched for a home to purchase. The housing market was terrible, however, and the little apartment gradually became home. Now I have a comfortable desk, new computer and tree-lined views.
After leaving Oregon I had plugged along through Idaho, praying the gut wrenching Mt. Hood food poisoning wasn’t an indicator of the miles and miles ahead. I stayed with dear friends for a few nights, and one afternoon I went along to pick the girls up from school. Try as I might, I had no recollection of being outside a school, in the parking lot, waiting to receive a child after school! I’m always on the inside, ushering the students out. Out of place doesn’t describe the feeling. It was almost a twinge of regret. . .or loss? Even fear, perhaps, of never getting back into a classroom. Bringing to mind all the heartache and hard work of teaching helped ease my discomfort, but it would take a month for me to fully embrace being temporarily out of the teaching world.
Three Island Crossing, in Idaho, is a place where Oregon Trail pioneers crossed the Snake River. When I was on my way to the visitor’s center there, I’d needed a restroom stop. Right away. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot more in that neck of the woods than when the pioneers came through. . .or at least it felt that way! Where was that visitor center!? Abruptly, I came to a nearly deserted RV park with a port-a-potty towards the back. I veered into the graveled drive and wondered why the place was so quiet? Only one RV? Oh, yeah. I’d had to remind myself multiple times that everyone was back in school.
Two groundskeepers were hard at work, one mowing. I stopped the car right in front of the port-a-potty and shot inside. Just as I was finishing my business, KaPOW! I froze, half-zipped. Gunfire! 150 beats per minute, sweat, wild thoughts. . .This plastic won’t stop a bullet! If they fire again, I’m done. Plan: zip up, keys ready, slowly open door, peer out…run for the car! Drive like mad, zig zagging!
Everything went according to plan, except when I peered out (probably not the wisest part of the plan), the man in the lone RV saw me, and pointed behind the port-a-potty. There, a dazed groundskeeper sat beside his lawnmower. Apparently, the engine had blown. My heart had nearly blown, too. I don’t think it slowed down until after I’d toured the entire Three Island Crossing visitor center.
I did a powerful lot of thinking as a powerful lot of road clicked by. Why do people get into the crazy profession of teaching? Paychecks? Tenure? Summers off? Or rather, a desire to see kids achieve and learn and grow into well-adjusted citizens? Do we see it as part of the strength of this nation? Why do we teach? What if something were getting in the way of all we’re trying to achieve with students? Would we be angry? Would we try and stop it? What if it was someone teachers have always trusted to have their backs? Teaching is hard – especially these days; support is vital. What motivates teachers to keep teaching?