My new school has a regular “Talking About Teaching” professional development opportunity for teachers. Essentially, it’s a scheduled time for teachers to come and share thoughts and ideas about the craft of teaching. It’s one thing that drew me to the school. Today’s topic was “Student Motivation”—a topic I’ve thought a lot about.

The conversation was wide-ranging, but it left me thinking for much of the day about the interconnection of two topics that form the title of this post: intrinsic motivation and the relevance of history. We talked a lot about the role of grades and other extrinsic motivators in school, though there seemed to be general agreement that we’d like for our students to be more intrinsically motivated to learn—to play with ideas, to inquire and explore their interests.

I pointed out that, as Daniel Pink notes in his book Drive, we all tend to be more intrinsically motivated when we a) have some measure of autonomy in the task at hand; b) can observe ourselves progressing toward mastery of it; and c) appreciate its larger purpose. Unfortunately, the infrastructure of schools often serves to undermine autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

At this point, a colleague raised the concern that few students—and even some teachers—don’t necessarily understand the purpose of their studies in school. Why, for instance, do students need to know a particular equation in math class? Or (to reference one of my own lessons from today) why do they need to know the significance of itinerant preachers in the Great Awakening?

We batted that idea around for a while, and there were a variety of ideas. In the end, though, we seemed to reach a general consensus: at the end of the day, students probably don’t need to know all of those things. Many agreed that much of the “stuff” that we teach in our courses is not absolutely essential for students to learn. (This brought to mind my recent post on “The Siren Call of Coverage.”)

This has me reflecting on curriculum. Once we acknowledge that the sky would not fall if some things were cut, then paring back the content of the curriculum would seem to be a logical step toward remedying any perceived deficiencies. In our case, if we find that our students suffer from a lack of intrinsic motivation and don’t see the purpose of what they’re studying, we need to address that. Trimming the content covered would kill two birds with one stone:

  1. It would provide time for self-directed learning, in which students—under the supervision of teachers, to be sure—could pursue topics of interest to them, hopefully learning to ask questions, pursue their interests, and discover meaning for themselves. Even in a field that is not necessarily a student’s true passion, he or she may find a particular topic or question that is intriguing, perhaps sparking a lifelong hobby.
  2. By covering less material, teachers would have the opportunity to pursue deeper learning, which would helpfully hope students understand the value of their studies. For my part, I want my students to consider why history matters today—how historical narratives (even historically inaccurate ones) shape our contemporary worldview and how historical thinking skills can help us make sense of the time in which we live. When I feel pressure to get to chapter 15 by Christmas, though, that’s difficult to do.

It is admittedly something of a cliche, but I have nevertheless long appreciated Yeats’s famous adage that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Particularly in history, if the approach is just “one damn thing after another,” only the rare student will have their “fire” stoked. (We history teachers all know these kids—the ones who geek out over trivia while the other students slump in their seats and roll their eyes.) In the traditional coverage approach, everyone’s pails get filled… but most are unceremoniously dumped out later, after the extrinsic motivation (the test) is removed. Whatever small fires we managed to start along the way, most are extinguished in the deluge.

On my drive to and from school each day, I typically listen to NPR. My commute is only about 10-15 minutes, even with traffic, so I generally only hear a handful of stories. Even so, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a number of stories about the recent decision by ITT Technical Institute, a for profit college, to shut down virtually overnight.

If you’re not familiar with the situation, the U.S. Department of Education announced in August that ITT Tech wold not be permitted to enroll students who use federal financial aid. This came after a number of investigations which alleged fraud and a number of other questionable business practices.

As I was driving in this morning, I heard this story, produced by our local NPR affiliate (WUSF). The gist is that ITT students—some of whom were only months from graduation—are basically left high and dry, and they now face a difficult decision: They can transfer some (though likely not all) of their credits to another institution and continue holding their debt in full, or they can discharge most (though likely not all) of their debt and start over from scratch at another institution. It’s a lose-lose situation.

The story quotes an ITT administrator in Fort Lauderdale as saying, “If I had a magic wand, I would have said, ‘If you’re closing, you teach them out, [show] that there’s a plan in place to teach out anyone who’s currently enrolled and that you don’t just shut the doors, you don’t just do that to people.”

To me, this story gets at the heart of my concerns about for-profit education ventures. I’ll be the first to admit that I am no expert on this issue, and I’m sure there are some valid arguments in favor of for-profit education. Still, I believe that educational institutions (even private, for-profit ones) have a fiduciary responsibility* to their students—a responsibility to act in their students’ interest that goes beyond their obvious responsibility to provide a quality educational experience. Unfortunately, in a for-profit school (or college, in this case), the motives and responsibilities become blurry.

Is the institution’s motive to education—or to make a profit, come what may? Is its responsibility to its students—or to its shareholders/stakeholders?  Of course, those don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but when push comes to shove, which will it be? We now know the answer for ITT Tech.

* I am not a lawyer and thus don’t use this term in a strictly legal sense. Rather, I use to suggest that institutions (or, more precisely, the administrators who guide those institutions) must consider students’ interests when making decisions about the company. They must honor the trust that students place in them when they enroll.

This post has been brewing for a while now, since the heady days of summer when I was free to spend my time reading to my heart’s content: books, magazines, blog posts, random news articles, the newspaper… you name it. And while I was doing all of that reading and thinking, something occurred to me. It’s not a particularly original thought, but rather one of those simple ideas that hits you square between the eyes.

As I read article after article about the 2016 presidential campaign, I reflected on the fact that my professional raison d’etre—like many history teachers—centers on preparing my students for active and engaged citizenship. I would love for just one of my students to pursue a career as a historian (or history teacher), but I know that most of them won’t. All of them, however, will become citizens.

To that end, I try to teach them how to think historically—which is to say, how to think critically about social issues, mindful of matters like context, causation, change, complexity, and contingency. I also try to think them how to read sources—whether 400 year old primary sources or contemporary op-eds—with an eye for bias and to corroborate the information they gather.

As I found myself drowning in reading material this summer, though, it occurred to me how difficult it is to corroborate in this age of information overload. Once we teach students how to corroborate—and why it is so important—we set them loose into a world with an overwhelming surfeit of information. Moreover, our “sources” are simultaneously proliferating and becoming ideologically fixed (or, at the very least, they are coming to be labeled as such by parties which disagree with their conclusions).

This leaves us more open than ever to the problem of confirmation bias. Worse, we may even fool ourselves into thinking we have corroborated our information by locating it in several different sources. This is a serious problem in the age of information.

Sam Wineburg

As I ruminated about this and contemplated this post, I came across this article from Sam Wineburg of the Stanford History Education Group. (It is actually an excerpt from his keynote before the American Association for State and Local History last year.) As with just about everything Wineburg writes, it should be required reading for history teachers. Here are a few key quotations from the piece, along with my brief thoughts about each one:

It was obviously never the case that just because something was printed meant that it was true. At the same time, we often ceded authority to established publishers. We relied on them to make sure that what we read was accurate, that it had gone through rounds of criticism before it reached our eyes. . . . The Internet has obliterated authority. . . . We live in an age when you can practice historiography without a license.

I suspect Wineburg is playing to his audience here, but I love this notion of practicing historiography “without a license.” His point, of course, is about the decline of authority in the internet age, but in fact, Wineburg’s scholarship seeks just this outcome. If he had his way, all students would become adept at thinking like historians, which would make a “license” (by which I assume he means a formal credential) even less relevant.

The first thing that historical study teaches is that there is no such thing as free-floating information. Information comes from somewhere.

A simple but often overlooked point. Wineburg has a knack for the pithy phrase, and if we had to sum up the value of a history education in ten words or less (an absurd idea, of course), this last sentence would put us on the right path.

[We] are living in an age where technological changes of how information is disseminated and distributed far outpaces our ability to keep up with it. The tools we have invented are handling us—not us them.

Echoes of Thoreau here. We’ve built systems for developing content and making it readily available to the masses, but without tools for critically assessing that content, we risk losing sight of the idea that “Information comes from somewhere.”

As the journalist John H. McManus reminds us, in a democracy the ill-informed hold just as much power in the ballot box as the well-informed. The future of the republic hangs in the balance. Reliable information is to civic intelligence what clean air and clean water are to public health.

It may be semantic, but I would challenge Wineburg to go farther here. I would change “reliable information” to “an engaged and critical citizenry,” and where he writes of “civic intelligence,” I would use “civic health.” After all, the goal here goes far beyond simply “intelligence,” and as Wineburg himself makes clear, that doesn’t depend on reliable information so much as on citizens’ ability to assess the information they encounter.

The fact of the matter is that Wineburg advocates for serious reform of the way history is taught in this country, much in the same way that Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring) and others called for environmental reforms. To hope for “reliable information” is naive—akin to Rachel Carson asking pollution to clean itself up. Instead, what we need are mechanisms for dealing with all the information out there. Just as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act paid dividends for public health, teaching students how to navigate the rising tide of information will improve civic health.

The new school year is underway, and so far, I’m really enjoying my new school. My colleagues have been welcoming and supportive, my students inquisitive and hard-working, and there is a strong culture of learning that aligns nicely with my own approach to education. All in all, I’ve felt very good about my decision to come to Tampa.

That said, as one might expect, there have been a few things that have required some adjustment. This being a much larger school than my previous two (more than double the size of my last school, for instance), it marks the first time in my career that I’m not solely responsible for the courses I’m teaching. In fact, in both my preparations (World History I in the 9th grade and U.S. History in the 11th grade), I’m one of three people who teach the course. Though we’re not required to be in lockstep, there is an expectation of general alignment across sections.

I’ve grown accustomed to having near complete control over what and how I teach (within reason, of course), but this year, I’ve had to recalibrate to the fact that my colleagues have different approaches than I do. For the most part, I think this will benefit me. The opportunity to get back to the classroom and continue honing my craft as a teacher was a major motivation for me to pursue this position, and collaborative planning and informal conversations with colleagues about what works and what don’t will only make me better. I’ve already noticed this in small ways.

However, in my last few years of teaching U.S. history (prior to this year, I hadn’t taught it since 2013-2014) I had adopted a thematic approach. I could write a post—or several—on why I now favor themes over chronological units, but my colleagues here were less enthusiastic. After some conversation, we settled on what I believe is a completely reasonable compromise: interspersing more traditional chronological coverage with intensive “modules” which consider some historical issue in greater depth. (For example, after lectures/textbook readings covering prehistoric America through the Puritan migration, we’re now considering the question of why history matters. By considering various portrayals of Columbus, Pocahontas, and John Winthrop, we’re examining the relationship between past and present and the ways in which history shapes—and is shaped by—our contemporary worldview.)

Of course, making room in the curriculum for these intensive mini-units requires sacrificing some coverage, and this brings me to the crux of my post. What has challenged me most this year is not the collaboration, as new as that experience is. It is, rather, the gravitational pull of the coverage model. In other words, by adopting a “textbook” (we’re using The American Yawp) and working through it chronologically, I find myself tempted to try to assign the entire thing. I volunteered to plan our first unit, which spans prehistory through the Revolution, and it was a constant battle with myself as I decided what content to pare back in order to make more room for the “deep dive” sections.

When I adopted the thematic approach around 2011 or 2012, I essentially dispensed with any semblance of coverage—and I was completely OK with that. The reality is that, even in American history (which is among the briefest of national histories), we can’t possibly cover everything that might be deemed significant. History is just too big, and if we try to cram it all in, we run the risk of turning history into “one damn thing after another,” which is exactly what led me to hate history as a high school student. In choosing a thematic approach over a chronological one, I abandoned the notion that I could cover it all, which was incredibly liberating. My students didn’t learn everything—they certainly would not have earned a 5 on the APUSH exam, for instance—but they definitely learned how to think about important ideas in American history and draw connections across vast spans of time. And they did learn a fair amount of “content” along the way. I felt good about it.

This year, though, as I’ve compiled lists of “Key Terms” for my students, I’ve found myself identifying many people and events that would never have seen the light of day in my thematic course (or come up only in passing). So how “Key” are they, really? And more importantly, why am I finding this so difficult? Is it the textbook? The chronological organization? I’m not sure, but this struggle has me reflecting on how the most seemingly basic decisions about curricular design can profoundly shape our conception–not to mention our students’ conception–of the discipline.

Today is what I affectionately refer to each year as “Teachmas Eve.” We’ve made it through the faculty meetings and the first week or so of adjusting back to a semi-normal sleep and work schedule, and tomorrow we begin teaching in earnest. So with summer coming to a hard close, it seems like a good time to reflect on some summer reading and set a goal for the coming year.

Considering all that I did this summer (moving, etc.), I’m fairly pleased with the amount I was able to read. I read a few things on a whim (like Jon Meacham’s Destiny and Power–the biography of George H.W. Bush–which I recommend), and I was also able to mark off a few books that had been on the “To Read” list for years. One of those was Teach Like a Champion. (I know: It’s so 2010!) I had been meaning to read it for quite some time, but for one reason or another I never got around to reading it.

I don’t agree with everything Doug Lemov writes. Philosophically, for instance, I favor a more student-centered classroom than he does. That said, I am slowly becoming less ideological in my views on teaching. I still hold strong beliefs, but I’ve tried–especially in the last few years–to seek ideas from across the spectrum, and while I wouldn’t do everything Lemov advocates, that doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t do any of it. I believe that all education is contextual, and the contexts in which he and I work are different in many ways. That said, students are still students, and some things probably are more science than art.

Over and over again while reading Teach Like a Champion, I found myself thinking, “Wow–that’s a great idea.” In fact, one of the biggest flaws I see with the book is that Lemov presents “49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College” (his subtitle). There are many great ideas in this book, but for any one teacher to try and implement them all would be nearly impossible. Even thinking about it would be overwhelming.

Even so, when I finished reading the book, I decided that I would try to incorporate some of Lemov’s ideas into my practice this year. I initially thought I would choose a technique from several different chapters, but the more I looked over his list again, the more I decided to focus on one area: classroom management.

I began my teaching career at an all-girls school, and I taught mostly juniors and seniors. The students were, almost without exception, engaged and motivated. They weren’t all academic superstars, but they cared and they wanted to please their teachers. If a student was talking in class or was underachieving, I usually just talked to them and the behavior improved. I loved teaching there, but one of the downsides is that I never really developed strong classroom management skills. I never really had to. When I moved to my next school, which was co-ed (but majority boys) and where I taught primarily 9th graders, this shortcoming hit me right between the eyes. My lack of classroom management skills shone through immediately. I learned on the fly and definitely got better, but it’s still an area that I would call a weakness.

So, with this in mind, I’ve chosen four techniques on classroom management from Teach Like a Champion:

Technique 36: 100 Percent

“There’s one acceptable percentage of students following a direction: 100 percent. Less, and your authority is subjection to interpretation, situation, and motivation.” (p. 168)

On the face of it, this would seem to be one of Lemov’s more authoritarian techniques–one that I would not likely embrace. And, in fact, that pretty much sums up my initial reaction to reading this. First of all, I think it’s a bit ridiculous to expect that 100 percent of students will obey the teacher’s every command, and I don’t think that’s generally the end of the world. We want creative types and divergent thinkers in our classrooms, just as in our world. That said, students should never be allowed to think that they can willfully ignore a teacher’s direction, and I appreciate Lemov’s approach to “100 percent compliance” (particularly using the least invasive form of intervention–a menu of possible responses to any challenge).

Technique 37: What to Do

“Some portion of student noncompliance–a larger portion than many teachers ever suppose–is caused not by defiance but by incompetence: by students’ misunderstanding a direction, not knowing how to follow it, or tuning out in a moment of benign distraction. . . . What to Do starts, logically, with telling your students what to do–that is, with not telling them what not to do.” (p. 177-178)

For me, this is critical. Patience is not my forte, and I know that I am quick to assume that a student is willfully disregarding my instructions. This technique serves as both a reminder that I should be explicit in my expectations and instructions, as well as a reminder to ascertain the cause of the noncompliance. I definitely zone out at times; perhaps this is true of a student as well? (Of course it is, but too often we teachers imagine that what we’re saying has such import that no student could possibly get distracted.) By taking a moment to determine if the cause is incompetence or defiance, we can respond more appropriate–defusing some situations and escalating the ones that need to be escalated.

Technique 38: Strong Voice

“When you get loud and talk fast, you show that you are nervous, scared, out of control. You make visible all the anxieties and send a message to students that they can control you and your emotions.” (p. 187)

Again, because I lacked classroom management skills, I remember how, in my early days of teaching 9th graders, I would raise my voice to talk over students, and I would (at times) engage in a tense back-and-forth with the more outspoken members of the class. Strong Voice reminds me not to do that. When the classroom is loud; get quiet. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted. Choose your words carefully and judiciously.

Technique 41: Threshold

“The first minute, when students cross the threshold into the classroom, you must remind them of the expectations. It’s the critical time to establish rapport, set the tone, and reinforce the first steps in a routine that makes excellence habitual.” (p. 197)

I’m not sure why this isn’t the first technique in the chapter, if not the book. When I read this, I thought, “Of course. Why don’t I take advantage of the time before class starts to welcome students, to make them feel welcome, and yes, to address any issues that need to be addressed. Why wait until the period begins to address a student who is wearing his headphones? Classroom cultures must be carefully cultivated and then defended vigorously. This will be a challenge for me this year as I don’t have a classroom of my own (I’ll be moving from room to room just as the students will), but I hope to make this part of my practice–to find a routine that works for me in which I can use that pre-class time to build and defend the classroom culture.

There are other techniques that I’d like to incorporate as well (Do Now, Cold Call, Pepper, Take a Stand, etc.) and I probably will do so here and there. But my focus, at least for the next few months, will be on using these techniques to improve my classroom management skills. I’ll try to write periodic reflections on how that is going.


As I noted in my last post, I spent the 2015-2016 in an administrative role at my previous school. Serving as the Assistant Dean of Students at a boarding school was an eye-opening experience on many levels. Now that I’ve left administration (at least for now) to return to the teaching ranks, I thought I should take some time to reflect on what I learned. Much of this is common sense, of course, but I want to have a reminder of my current thinking should I ever go back.

Whenever I’m asked about my experience last year, I always say that if I had to describe it in a single word, that word would be “humbling.” The feedback I received from my supervisors was almost uniformly positive, but I rarely felt like I was doing a good job. This is no doubt a function of perfectionist tendencies, but in many ways, my first year as an administrator felt an awful lot like my first year as a teacher. I was learning on the fly, juggling a lot of new challenges at once, and at times, barely keeping my head above water. More importantly, I learned just how complex the task of running a school really is. As one colleague said to me after I took the position but before I started, “Get ready for lots of grey.” I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I quickly learned. Rarely does a school leader face a decision that is black and white. Most of the “easy calls” are made by others, so by default, the issues that land on an administrator’s desk are challenging and complex. There is often no right answer, and odds are good that someone will be upset with whatever decision you make.

The other thing that caught me off guard (but probably shouldn’t have) was the public nature of the job. There is a steep learning curve, but unlike your first year as a teacher, almost every mistake you make is exposed to your colleagues. As a teacher, you can close your door and make mistakes with the knowledge that the only people who (usually) see them are students–and they tend to be more forgiving than adults! Whether it’s a presentation in a faculty meeting or a difficult disciplinary decision, as an administrator, it can feel like your every move is being scrutinized behind your back. To do the job well, it takes thick skin and maybe even a bit of practiced nonchalance. Sometimes confidence is a choice–fake it ’til you make it!

A few other takeaways:

  • Before beginning, seek clarity about institutional priorities and how success will be defined in the role. There is only so much time in the day, and if you spread yourself too thin, nothing will get done well. When push comes to shove–as it almost certainly will–where should your attention be focused?
  • Find a mentor who is not your supervisor (or your supervisor’s supervisor). Ideally this would be someone who has done your job, but more important than that is finding someone who you feel comfortable asking questions of when you feel “stuck” or leaning on for support when the pressures of the job weigh you down. If you’re moving into an administrative role from the teaching ranks, this can be tricky, because many of the people you previously would have sought out may now report to you, which can alter the dynamic.
  • Early on, focus on “making sure the trains run on time” (that is, crucial logistical/organizational tasks and day-to-day management). We as a society seem to suffer from a “cult of leadership” in which “leaders” are visionary and heroic (think Steve Jobs) and “managers” are boring and maybe even a little bit soul-sucking (think Bill Lumbergh). Nobody aspires to be a “manager,” but in a leadership transition, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. No matter how incredible your vision may be, if you can’t (or don’t) “manage” the mundane aspects of the job early on, you will lose credibility and your ability to lead will be seriously compromised.
  • While you focus on the day-to-day, do take proactive steps to build your “leadership capital” for the long term. Even if you have a vision that you hope to implement, it makes sense to learn the lay of the land, and it’s always possible that your vision can be improved upon by others. Do this in the following ways:
    • Build relationships. Just talk to people. Get to know them better on a personal level, without an agenda. You don’t have to become best friends, but getting to know each other is more likely to create trust and make it easier to work through differences of opinion later on. (And for God’s sake, when those differences of opinion occur, don’t try to resolve them over e-mail. Get to know people well enough early on that you can say, “Hey, let’s talk.”)
    • “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey adapted this from the Prayer of St. Francis (“O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek . . . To be understood as to understand”). No matter where you get it, it’s good advice: ask questions in the spirit of curiosity. Envision yourself as the Direktor Grundsatzfragen or “Director of Fundamental Questions” (see p. 2 of the linked PDF), at least within your sphere of influence.
    • Empower people. I read recently that an administrator’s job is to “say yes as often as possible.” This makes a lot of sense to me, especially in schools. People typically choose to teach (or coach, or …) because they are passionate. Encourage them to develop their ideas, and if they bring one to you, find a way to make it happen if at all possible. It’s become a kind of cliche to say that leaders don’t have a monopoly on the best ideas, but just because it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
    • Focus on getting a few small “early wins” to build momentum and show people that you can lead. Keep in mind, however, that in keeping with the above, you shouldn’t try to do too much too fast or risk alienating people, so choose the areas you want to tackle carefully.
  • On an ongoing (i.e., daily) basis, be relentless about maintaining your connection to others–both students and faculty. This is important for any leader, but it becomes (I imagine) even more important the higher you climb. (That is to say, it’s probably easier to become “detached” as head of school than as department chair.) Do this in the following ways:
    • If need be, manage your schedule ruthlessly. This may seem like an odd follow-up to “foster a spirit of connection,” but it’s far too easy to get bogged down in e-mail and sit behind your desk all day. Carve out specific times for things like e-mail, phone calls, and daily tasks. Schedule reminders for things that used to be spontaneous, because it won’t be anymore (see below).  The inevitable crisis will throw you off some days, but self-discipline is a must.
    • Be visible. Yes, keeping the trains running on time requires a lot of “desk work,” but people won’t follow you if they can’t see you. E-mails are not an acceptable substitute.
    • Show appreciation for faculty. They work hard and need to know that you recognize that. A small gesture (a handwritten note or a shout-out in a faculty meeting–there’s a big difference, so know your target!) can go a long way. Again, e-mail will not suffice.
    • Even if it’s not spontaneous for you (i.e., you scheduled it on your calendar weeks or months ago), bring joy to people’s day in a way that encourages connection. Have donuts for faculty on a random Tuesday. Set up a hot chocolate station for students as they pass between classes. (In schools–especially high schools–joy and food often go hand-in-hand.)

In terms of the big picture, I learned that leadership can be a lonely business (as when making difficult or controversial decisions), but it can become even more lonely–perhaps dangerously so–if you are not careful and intentional about how and where you spend your time. In addition, effecting positive change in schools is a long game. As with the stock market, invest wisely and be patient, seeking steady growth rather than quick gains, which can be lost just as quickly.

And what about for me going forward? Well, I’ve learned that a formal leadership role can wait until I feel the NEED to lead. Looking back, I wanted to lead and was drawn to some of the challenges of the job in an intellectual sense, but I didn’t have the deep wellspring of passion and energy for the job that it required. Moreover, given the personal/family considerations that ultimately led me to Tampa, I probably wasn’t prepared to play the long game that leadership requires. Someday I might be, and I think this experience helped to clarify for me what kind of leader I would want to be. I’m certainly grateful for the opportunity to learn so much relatively early in my career, but in the meantime, I’m happy to be back in the classroom, and as I get settled in my new school, I’ll seek out smaller, informal leadership opportunities in order to keep building my capacity.

I was doing better with my resolution to write more this year… and then life caught up with me. The last few months have been a whirlwind of job searching, soul searching, house hunting, packing, moving, unpacking, and settling in. Now, as the dust begins to settle, I find myself wanting to get back to writing (and teaching).

As I alluded to in my last post, I’ve been in the midst of a career move, leaving the small boarding school in rural eastern Virginia where I spent the past three years in favor of a considerably larger day school in Tampa, Florida. My wife and I decided last winter that it was time for a change, but I don’t think either of us could have predicted the way things shook out. (Florida, for instance, was not even on our radar when I started my job search. Life is funny sometimes.)

The school we left behind was a lovely little community in many respects. We made some good friends, folks we’ll probably stay in touch with for a long time, but the career opportunities for my wife were sparse, and while she did manage to find meaningful work, few of her colleagues were in the same age bracket/life stage. Owing to the “triple threat” nature of boarding schools, I was usually busy, even on the weekends, and she felt particularly isolated.

Finally, last year I had been offered an administrative role at the school. I was initially very excited about the opportunity, but as the year progressed, I found myself missing the classroom. I taught one section of a class which met 2-3 times per week, and there were plenty of times when that was the highlight of the day. It got me out of my office, interacting with kids, thinking and talking about ideas, and I came to realize that this is the part of the job I love the most. I also felt like I had a lot more work to do to hone my craft as a teacher, and I wasn’t able to do it in that setting or especially in that role. I may very well return to school leadership someday—there are challenges in that realm which intrigue me—but at this point in my career, I don’t feel the need. (That said, I did learn a lot this past year, which I expect will serve me well if/when I do rejoin the administrative ranks. Perhaps that will become a future post.) Along with a few other factors which I won’t get into here, these things set the stage for a move, so I set out in search of a new teaching position.

My experience of the job market was very different this time around than last, when I talked to what felt like 50 different schools and went on (I think) eight campus interviews. This time, the search was more focused from the very beginning. I was invited for a campus interview here in Tampa, and my wife and I spent a weekend here prior to that (neither of us had ever been here before). We really liked what we saw. Tampa felt like the right size—not huge, but with plenty to do. There were different areas of the city, each with their own unique feel. We got some great restaurant recommendations, visited a local brewery, and went for a run along the Hillsborough River, where we saw dolphins breaching the surface. (Of course, it helped that the weather was fantastic. Only a couple of days before, I had been wearing fleece long underwear on the baseball field in Virginia, while in Tampa I wore shorts and a t-shirt.)

In terms of the school itself, I was impressed. There seemed to be a strong intellectual culture among the faculty, along with significant support for professional development. Students appeared bright and engaged, and the history department’s approach meshed well with my own. As we left Tampa, I was excited about the possibilities and hoped I would get an offer. About a week later, it did.

At that point, everything “got real,” and the decision was much harder than I expected it would be. Even with its downsides, the setting in Virginia was beautiful—right on the Rappahannock River near its confluence with the Chesapeake Bay. Crossing the river on the nearby bridge, especially at sunset, could be truly breathtaking. The leadership at my school had been good to me, rewarding me with new responsibilities each year, and it seemed as if I was on an upward career trajectory. And perhaps most importantly, we were close to our families—about 90 minutes away. Even though we didn’t see them nearly as often as we would have liked (boarding school life…), knowingly putting 12 hours of driving distance between us suddenly became tough to justify. After much soul-searching, it was my wife who clarified things for me. She had initially been skeptical when I told her I was thinking of applying for the job in Tampa, but she warmed to the idea, and after listening to me hem and haw for a few days, she finally said, “Matt, this is a good opportunity. You should take it.”

The saga of our house-hunting adventure could easily fill many more paragraphs, but in the end, we bought a small house in a neighborhood that we love. We’re within walking distance of a great park along the river. After several years of having to drive 45 minutes to a good restaurant, we’re now within walking distance of several. And I didn’t realize it before I took the job, but Tampa Bay actually has a phenomenal craft beer scene, with several breweries a stone’s throw from us. We have a sunny backyard where we hope to finally be able to do some gardening, and I’ve made it to my new school in 7 minutes, though I think I may try biking to work when the weather cooperates. All in all, we’re excited about our new situation, and after several weeks of settling in (and countless trips to Home Depot), I’m finally in a place where I can enjoy what’s left of summer.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading (another future post?) and am beginning to plan for the coming school year. While I can’t honestly say I’m not quite ready to give up the summer schedule, I am starting to feel the itch to get back into the classroom. It’s a good feeling.