This collection of stories is an anniversary gift to my husband of 35 years–one story for each year. Our 17th year was one of significant change. For nearly two decades, we both taught science at the same high school which we loved, and this was the year we changed districts, schools, and subjects.
After closure of Fort Ord, Seaside and Marina became ghost towns, and after years of signing transfer sheets for students who were moving, and years of dwindling course selections offered at our high school, and most importantly, years of declining income while our family expenses climbed, we made a decision. Eighteen years we taught at Seaside High, at a school, faculty and staff we loved, but we needed to move.
1999 was our last year teaching at Seaside. Whenever we mentioned we taught at Seaside, the usual reaction was,
“Oh my god, aren’t you scared of getting shot?”
“Aren’t you afraid of working there?”
“Wow, you’re brave.”
Public impression was we risked our lives to go to work. It was never like that. Students were sweet and respectful, and we figured we’d retire from that district.
Seaside students came from all over the world, sons and daughters of military personnel stationed on the Fort Ord Base. Seaside High (chanted in a deep voice with emphasis on “side,” as in “see-SIDE”) pooled together a fascinating combination of genes–Samoan/African-American, African-American/Asian, etc. During the 1980s (heck, even now), the government expected teachers to count ethnicities within our classes. Seriously? Seriously. Of course, data recorded on scantrons, determined federal funds the school received, so we took this assignment seriously.
1999 was our first year teaching at Salinas High, John Steinbeck’s alma mater, and different from Seaside in many ways. 2600 kids attended, nearly 1000 more than at Seaside. Salinas lacked the diversity of Seaside; it seemed as if only two groups attended–farmers’ kids or farm-workers’ kids. Think of pre-packaged lettuce to chase the money. The “show-case school” of the district possessed beautiful architecture and strong history in town. Football games were the biggest (usually only) thing on Friday nights; parents and grandparents, mostly alums of Salinas or neighboring Catholic schools filled the stadium. Lots of “intermarriages” between Salinas High and Palma/Notre Dame alums, which made for exciting and packed volleyball, basketball, and football games.
That year, there was no welcome for new staff, rather colleagues demanded to know your stand on school issues, your stand with admin, etc. We left a school we cherished and moved into a scorching hot bed of politics, faculty taking pride in the rapid turn-over of administrators. I walked a thin line that school year–really three years until I had tenure. To say it was difficult to find friends on staff is an understatement, but we “first-year teachers” found solace in each other. And though I had taught 24 years, it felt like my first. I mourned the loss of our other school, eventually “found my way,” and celebrated that I worked at the same school of our oldest. Not just the same school, as a result of shuffling in the master schedule, daughter M. “landed” in my biology class.
Many in her class recognized me as the “science specialist” from their past elementary school.
“Hey, I remember you. You came to our class and we dissected owl pellets.”
Of course, that was then, ungraded and fun, this was now, graded and work. On the other hand, the class embraced the schedule change and me, which made the changes (districts, schools, subjects, and classes) worth it. Except for poor M.
I explained to my second period class. “M. is my daughter. She won’t call me Mrs. Harrison. She can call me Mom. If you call me that too, it’s okay.”
The class laughed and nodded agreement. Made perfect sense, still daughter M. avoided addressing me for that entire year.