As I write this, I am looking around a room that has been stripped.
Stripped of the memories of students who “got it” at just the right time. Stripped of personal effects. Stripped of the things that make a classroom more than a classroom and more of a safe place for students and a nest for a teacher. While I have only been in this physical room for one school year, I have been in this school for seven years. And this week is my last here.
I’m not sad but instead hesitantly hopeful. In January, we were to complete the letter of intent to let the school know if we were planning to return the following year. Mine said no. It was a tough decision. I didn’t have another job. I didn’t have a plan but I did know it was time to move on. It wasn’t time to move because of testing or politics or frustration… it was just time to move on (though those three things have reared their ugly head since my announcement).
I began teaching at the Rockdale Career Academy on Monday, October 10th 2011 after leaving my position as marketing director for what is now iHeart Radio on Friday, October 7th. I knew nothing about teaching other than what I experienced during my time in a classroom. I was part time the first year. This meant I had to make a ton of sacrifices in my life but my wife was by my side through it all and looking back I would do it 100 times over. My first year teaching was a challenge as I learned to not only teach but how to navigate the maze of parents, professional development, standards, and the rest. I have to say that I was supported through it all by my amazing administration who took a chance on me and put me in a great spot.
The other teacher in the department, James Dinsmoor, opened the program 5 years prior to my arrival and put it on the map. His students swept the audio-video category at SkillsUSA Georgia the spring before I arrived. So I just had to follow the path laid out. The program was ready for expansion. And boy did it! James’s guidance helped me to become the teacher that I am today so I would be remiss if I didn’t give him that recognition.
So now I am moving on and at the risk of being too spiritual for some, I will say that my next job has been laid out for me before I was aware. The principal that originally hired me left to take another position closer to her home. Last year, she reached out to ask if she could connect me with the person teaching her video class. The goal was that I would help guide, show some texts or other resources, etc. That teacher and I spoke several times over the year as she learned to use her marketing experience to teach one video production class among her many other preps.
Last spring, the director of our “virtual campus” contacted me about teaching video production virtually. I told him that I would consider it. The fall came and I agreed to teach via our virtual platform. At the time, I didn’t know it was going to be at the school that I coached the previous year. I am going to go ahead and put it out there that there has been nothing more frustrating in my life than trying to be a great teacher through a virtual medium. There have been times where I almost threw in the towel and I know that some of the students have. CTE courses are meant to be taught in person where relationships and relevance can be built. (Rant averted)
In an effort to give the virtual campus students and opportunity to experience live streaming, I went to the school in January to stream a basketball game. While I was there, something told me to look around and actually take in the environment. The teacher that I worked with the previous year is my co-teacher this year and she was there. She said to me “They are going to be looking for a video teacher. You should apply.” My immediate response “It’s too far from home.” (I had not gone public with the fact that I was looking around for my next teaching stop.)
Fast forward a couple of days and a LONG conversation with my wife and I sent this text to the principal “I hear you are looking for a video production teacher. I might know a guy.” She initially didn’t get the true meaning of the message but later realized I wanted to apply for the job. Cutting through the HR timeline, I decided in April that I would take the digital media teaching position at Morgan County high school in Madison, Georgia. The same program that I had my hand in for two years would be the first program that I open on my own.
Now comes the hard part - What to do. What to purchase. What to teach. Who to connect with….
I have wrestled for 6 weeks now on what I want the program to be. Should I go crazy and try to do a centralized control room? Should I take more of a film production approach? With all of the kids having cameras on their phone, should I focus on mobile cinematography? Short of naming my children, this has been one of the most difficult decisions in my life.
I still think like a marketing director when it comes to big choices like this and despite published research, I run my classroom/program like a business. Georgia’s film industry has exploded so I initially wanted to capitalize on that but later reconsidered because I realize that the job that are needed the most in the state, aren’t jobs that students are going to sign up for. So I have to trick them into learning those jobs while creating an environment that is engaging and “fun.” (Side note: I hate when people say my class is fun…I don’t know why. I guess it feels like it demeans the work we do in the class.) I need to create a class that the students will invest their personal time in and be proud of the result.
I started following both newspapers and every school related club I could find on social media. The “market” is active. It’s vibrant and it supports the school system immensely. The athletics for the high school are extremely competitive with several of the teams making it deep into the playoffs. These things lead me to create a program that will focus on news and sports for the school and the community.
I met with our partners with the University of Georgia and we created a game plan for football season which is great because that relationship will give the program instant credit in the school and the community (The new school is about 20 miles away from the University of Georgia campus and to say the fan base is huge is an understatement).
Now the hardest part, equipment…. The Georgia Department of Education and State Legislature approved over $14million for new programs throughout the state and we have been blessed to receive a portion of those funds. The hard part now becomes “what do I purchase that will stand the test of time in terms of technology and students.” I made no less than 10 spreadsheets with hundreds of line items trying to settle on what we need. I settled on a pretty nice studio set up, One elaborate remote set up, and two smaller remote setups. This isn’t all I had to think about but it was my starting place. The studio will be three cameras with graphics, switcher, etc while the larger remote setup will be at least 3 cameras with a plan for three on-air announcers. The smaller setup will be one camera with one announcer.
When going through the millions of potential items to purchase, I kept an eye on Sling Studio equipment because it would be a great addition to our program and will easily allow us to do a ton of things. One thing I am excited about is that the softball team just built a “deck” in centerfield. This will be a great way for me to get that centerfield shot and using the Sling Studio, I can get a solid wireless connection with no problem!
Now that we have entered into summer, I know things will slow down for a couple of weeks in the process of getting the program off the ground but this is a great time for me to work on my lessons, plans for the announcements and news shows (I am planning on doing one of each daily!), plan for sports coverage, and how to get my kids into the program and get them up to speed as quickly as possible. Oh yeah and I have to find out where the bathrooms at my new school are - It only took me 4 months to find them in my last building.
Next month, I’ll have the equipment plan nailed down and will go through my plans for the first days of school!