A Year in the Life of a First Year Teacher        (aka My “Normal”)

By Jason Jue

Having been a parent for over a decade now, I have gained a bit of perspective on what the word “normal” means.  I had always thought the way that I grew up was “normal”.  Mother in college.  Living in student family housing.  Growing up in a small suburban town with only one middle school and one high school, surrounded by much larger and more urban environments.  What I came to realize as a parent, though, is that every child has its own sense of what a “normal” upbringing is.  My kids grow up in a much more affluent, larger, and safer suburban area.  My “normal” was freeze tag, Sunday morning cartoons on channel 2, and memorizing my friends’ home phone numbers.  Their “normal” is cell phones, social media, and television channels devoted to cartoons, Disney, cooking, and sports.  Their “Jason Juenormal” is much different that mine.

So it should not have been surprising that my first year teaching would be much different than what other teachers might consider “normal”.  It all started with the interview process.  While my initial phone interview wasn’t extremely out of the ordinary, the second interview definitely was.  Having asked what the next step in the process was, I came to find out that the second interview was actually teaching a class at Orion.  I was a bit taken aback by the prospect of being thrown into the fire, so to speak.  However, this is now my “normal”.

Having been lucky enough to receive and accept an offer to work at Orion, my “normal” would only be starting.  As I attended my first two days of teacher training, I began to see how knowledgeable and dedicated the staff here is.  Not only in regards to their areas of study, but in particular in their understanding of the student body.  Each one of these wonderful people had insight and perspective and stories about every single student here.  And that, as much as anything, showed me just how much these teachers cared about the education and lives of each and every student.  This became the “normal” to which would aspire.

As the year progressed and I learned more about what it meant to be part of the Orion community, I began to become familiar with the strategies involved in being a teacher here.  Along with the specific rules and interventions we utilize, I also began to experience the student growth opportunities provided that would not generally be available at other schools.  Now my “normal” includes things like pumpkin carving and scarecrows building in homeroom, personal projects and community meetings, homeroom mixers and lunchtime clubs, performances and team building, Orion Day, State of the School, and Bigger and Better.  And this is the “normal” our students get that many, many students in other situations do not.

And now, with my first year at Orion and my first year ever teaching coming to an end, I find myself thinking more and more about what it means to have a “normal” teaching experience.  Teachers from elementary to high school, from public schools to charter schools to private schools all have their own idea of what “normal” is.  A year ago, I had no real sense of it.  And maybe what I have now is not what most, or even any, teachers would call “normal”, but that is ok.

I truly believe that, as I raise my own children, and as I mentor these wonderful young people at Orion, that each and every one of their sense of “normal” is also ok.  Who is to say what “normal” is for another person?  And who is to say that any sort of “normal” is good or bad?  What makes any person’s “normal” any better than someone else’s?  Whatever it means, though, in my life, in my family, and in my career, I must say that I am very happy with my “normal”.  And I sincerely hope that I have been able to add a little wisdom and happiness to the “normal” of the people I have encountered this first year at Orion.