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we’ve been gifted this island, we’ve been gifted this day

As of tomorrow,  five years ago, I stumbled into, accidentally found and blindly wandered into where I belong.  Absurd as it may be to find delight in marking a half a decade at a job, there are some sappy feelings and a whole lot of gratitude to be spread around for where I am now, which is exactly where I started five years ago.

Cottage_Grove_HouseFive years ago, and a couple of weeks, I was a term into my second masters degree.  I had completed my teaching program and had decided to continue into Special Education for one and a half reasons.  Half reason: I was interested in the topic.  Whole reason: I wanted to wait a year for Jess to finish her grad program.  Lucky that I did so.

I was called in to the  office of the director of my previous teaching program.  She had been in contact with someone from a Cottage Grove High School because they were looking for a replacement for a Special Education teacher who was unexpectedly leaving after one term.  My name was thrown around by the program director because she knew I was interested in the field.  With my permission, my name and number was passed off to the district.

A day later, my phone rings, the director of Special Education is calling to talk with me about the position.  I’m brutally honest with her, SPED is not the area I want to teach, I won’t have my SPED teaching license, and I’m a full-time grad student who’s not even really looking for a job. Understandingly, she says she understands each of my comments but still suggests, “Well, just come down and see the school.”  Reluctantly, I agree and day or two later, I drive down to Cottage Grove.

Their new high school is big and beautiful, having been built but a couple of years earlier.   I’m shown around the school, meet some of the teachers, the principal and the SPED department head, who I think already didn’t like me.  Walking back to the front door, the director of Special Education asks me what I think, I reiterate all of my previous concerns covering my lack of interest and credentials.  Even more so now, she is very understanding, nodding with each expressed concern; yet, she doesn’t hesitate a half of a breath after my concerns to say, “Well, you should just apply, there’s not commitment.”

Reluctantly, I take the application and head back to Eugene. A day after my application was submitted, I am called by the principal of the high school, asking me to come and interview for the position that I don’t want, I don’t feel qualified for, and don’t feel ready for.  I reel out all of my concerns to this new sympathetic ear, he completely understands, saying that it’s only an interview, not a commitment.  Reluctantly, I schedule an interview for five in the evening for the next day.

Up until this point, I had interviewed for multiple jobs before, yet none of them had been in the field I was actually aiming for.  I figured that since this was my first, big time education interview, I was going to be slammed with questions over pedagogy, behavior management, my understanding of Special Education… and I was questioned over all of this, however, what was unexpected was the stories and laughter that took place during the interview from my interviewers.  Even though this was my first ‘dry-cleaned shirt and tie’ interview, it was the most relaxed, most comfortable interview I had ever been through.  My interview to be a bag-boy at a supermarket had been more tense; my interview to be a resident assistant  was more grueling.

After a round of shaking hands, I was on my way home to think over the interview–with the feeling that I was probably the least qualified applicant and that this had been a good practice interview.  I knew that in a couple of days, the phone would ring and the official, understanding voice would say, “Thanks for applying, but…”

The phone definitely rang in two days, as expected, the voice said, “Thanks for applying…” however I was only half right with my guess,  “…we’d like to offer you the position.” Awkward long pause.

“Really?”  Was my response, second-guessing their decision making skills.  I was assured that they had called the right applicant.  I nervously asked fora day to think about it, which I was granted.  I talked to many people, but the phrase that sat on top of my head that night and the next half day was my dad’s, “step out of your comfort zone, try something that’s not completely safe to you, something that may be hard.”

Around lunch time, I called the director of Special Education.  Red-faced, nervous and slightly nauseous, I told her that I would be happy to accept the position.

Three days before the second term was to begin, I met the guy who had just previously held my position.  I was regaled with stories of  horrendous kids, a miserable job, and a promised urge to be in this position for no more than a year, two at absolutely max.  Not the reinforcement I had been seeking for my half-confident decision.

And the job was hard… at least initially.  The previous teacher was right, there were bad attitudes, student’s that wouldn’t trust me, challenged me, and were intentionally upsetting the balance of the class.  All this and I was still a full-time student, teaching all day and in class at night.  However, I found out that these behaviors from the students weren’t their doing, it had been the teacher.  He had been so callous, so empty with the kids that they hated him, hated anyone that was in his place.

Through the remainder of that year, intentionally or unintentionally, I had reversed that shock wave of a bitter teacher and the rest leads to where I am right now. Cottage Grove, unbeknown to be, drew me in.

Within the following year, Jess and I bought a house in the tiny little town.  She was hired on at one of the elementary schools.  We started to make good friends.  The Grove had sent out its tentacles  and reeled us in. For me, Cottage Grove feels as though the red hot summer days of my early years.  The glint and mist that Woodburn used to have for me.  The comfort, the roamable comfort of a town that knows you and compliments the notches of your own puzzle piece, nuzzled within it.  The streets match your feet, the city limits, gently, are just at the furthest tips of your longest fingers, stretched out at the end of your arms.

Slowly, the high school morphed from this giant building where I was a singularity, to where I go to work with friends.  Where I feel a certain love and kinship with my colleagues.  The students are the source of my good, bad, and best days.  It’s an ebb and flow.  Is every day those white-boarded wonderful days of educational and teaching bliss?  No.  Some days are hard, some days grip hard upon the minute hand around the clock.

But every day is rewarding.

More often are the days that I come home in a better space than I left home in.   Most days have their personal bests and moments of all of these connections. But every day has its reward.

Without reluctance, I would like to thank little Cottage Grove.  Thanks for letting me fall into your grace, into a job I love, into a place I belong.  Thank you for the people, students, adults, the barely known faces and names, those I see every day that make it The Grove, welcoming and anointed me as a Grover.

As accidentally as I arrived, it is with much intention that I stay here.

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