I never meant to become a teacher. In fact, it was my intention to be somewhere in the IT world ever since I was a sophomore in high school. But there have been three outcomes in my life–guidance by a sort of invisible hand–that shoved me down a career path that I could never have anticipated. The first was my freshman year of college. My declared major was Computer Science, I was hired to work on campus as an IT department receptionist and help desk attendant, and I was taking my first Comp Sci class – Java. Meanwhile, I was also taking expository writing, a required class for all freshmen and not liking it a bit. But that didn’t stop me from succeeding at it. In fact, as my grade in my Java class plummeted, my grade in writing had skyrocketed. By the end of the semester, assessing where the chips had fallen, I had re-declared myself an English major and ceased further pursuits in Comp Sci (though I kept my job and was even promoted within the IT department). The second outcome came during my last semester as a senior, applying for the Peace Corps. I had wanted to go to Sub Saharan Africa, specifically Namibia, where I had studied abroad as an IT volunteer. Peace Corps thought otherwise and offered me a position in the Philippines in Southeast Asia…to teach English. By the time I was on my way home from that, I was sitting on a plane waiting for takeoff in Tokyo, lost in a daydream of an IT job, an apartment and a girlfriend. Over the course of the flight, however, I started talking to the guy from L.A. next to me, who was on his way home from teaching English in South Korea. Well, that put a bug in my ear, which finally got the better of me about two weeks after I arrived at home. And that’s how I wound up teaching these last six years, two in the Philippines and four in Korea–and Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov should have been the first book I read before I ever even got on that plane back in 2008, and maybe again for a refresher in 2010.
Reminiscence and reflection are complicated matters. Over winter break, I picked up the Oxford American’s annual music issue. The featured state is Tennessee, and the issue comes with a double disc music compilation of Tennessee music. I was in Tennessee – where I’m from – and I was missing the hell out of it.
Like I said, looking at the past is complicated. In order to accurately represent the music of the South, one cannot simply discuss the musicians, their style and influences. Music in the South, music in Tennessee, all of it is directly tied up with segregation and civil rights. It is a matter of a few very poor, very talented folks who happened to make it big in Memphis or Nashville. But it’s also a matter of how they made it big, who was there pushing them through, who was tripping them up, who was buying their records and who was not. Continue reading