44. For My Students

Press “play” to listen.

10 September 2022, 11:40

I was born on a Thursday, early in the morning, in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. Ellen, my mom, labored for long hours through the night before the doctors decided I would not be a natural birth— “[Matthew] was from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ripped” (Macbeth, V.8). Paul, my dad, could not hold me in his arms because he had a bad rash from poison oak that would not have been kind to a baby’s skin. It was 27 July 1995. (You do the math.)

I started school young, remaining the shortest and smallest kid in my grade until puberty and high school. In Ms. Heagh-Avritt’s second-grade class, I wrote a poem. Barbara, my gramma, got me into the Oregon Student Poetry Contest, where I performed “Loose Tooth.” Won an honorable mention.

I had a pleasant time at West Union Elementary School. Learned arithmetic, cursive, reading, &c. Had a few friends: Kevin K., Joseph S., Matthew L.

Mine was a religious household. Dad was the youth pastor at our church. Got baptized when I was ten years old.

Elbow Lake, 2006

Then it was middle school, which was less than pleasant. Full of drama and awkwardness. Mr. Thacker taught me algebra and geometry; he made it fun and entertaining. Ms. Pettis taught me history and poetry. I had a crush on a girl named Noé. I picked a flower and gave it to her, with a note.

Next, the big leagues: high school. Stopped taking piano lessons and spent all my free time playing sports. Soccer, swimming, baseball, cross country, wrestling, golf, track and field. Curtis joined our family in 2009 when I was a freshman. He was a junior, older, and way bigger than me. We had issues in the beginning, but things became much better over time.

Christmas, 2009

Some folks from my church traveled to Tijuana, México, every summer to build a small house for a family without one. The first time I went was the summer after fifth grade. I woke up one morning with over seventy mosquito bites all over my body. Dad gave me two Benadryl, and I fell asleep on a stack of sheetrock amidst hammers, saws, and shouting. I kept going most summers from then on.

Tijuana, MX, 2010

In high school, I was mainly interested in computers, engineering, math, science, sports, and Jesus. (Only one of these things interests me, now.) I worked hard for my grades, mainly earning As and a few Bs. (One C, from senior year, when I did not try as hard because I was tired and wanted to graduate.)

Liberty High School, 2013

I spent the summer after high school playing Skyrim in my parent’s basement, much to the annoyance of my dad. Video games were only a waste of time to him. I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, for undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at Oregon State University. After a year of calculus and the impending doom of advanced physics, I gave up on that major. Was “undecided” for a term, then found myself in a place I had not expected: studying English literature. I had always liked reading and writing but never thought much about it as a field of study. A year later, I added a major in education to the mix, and my future was cemented. I was to become a teacher.

But first, a study-abroad in Querétaro, México, to improve my Spanish. It was the spring of 2016. Three months. Learned more of the language in that short time than I did in four years of learning in a classroom in the U.S. Took a weekend vacation in Cancún while there.

Cancún, MX, 2016

Back to America. After two more years at OSU, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in Education. Magna Cum Laude and about $30,000 of debt at which I was to start chipping away. (If you can make college free, do it. The government decided I did not deserve help because my parents could afford to pay my way. They paid for part; the rest was on me.)

Corvallis, OR, 2018

Instead of applying for public high school jobs like all my peers were doing, I took an offer from a recruiter to teach English at Shanghai Normal University Tianhua College. Spent the summer beforehand reading up on China and decompressing after five years of stress and hair loss. Then a long flight to a foreign land. It was a wild nine months.

Shanghai, 2018
Teacher and Students

China was a learning experience. I would have stayed, except that I missed my family and friends. Also, air pollution, authoritarianism, internet censorship, and a lack of religious freedom took their toll. Back to America, again. I taught Grade 7 Math and Social Studies for a year in Milwaukie, Oregon. At the tail end, schools closed because of the pandemic. My younger brother, Christopher, graduated from Luther College in Iowa with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. He and I moved to a suburb of Seattle, Washington. He started working as a hospital nurse. I could not land a school-teaching position, so I resorted to private tutoring. My students consisted of three second-graders, four fifth-graders, one sixth-grader, two eighth-graders, and one tenth-grader. It was kind of cool, actually. I learned to value one-on-one and small group teaching, in stark contrast to having a roster of twenty or thirty students.

I felt stuck, though. Two bachelor’s degrees and a couple of years of experience in education did not seem to attract the attention of principals. I decided to go back to school. Started applying and was soon accepted into the M.A. in English program at New York University. Could not turn down an opportunity in the Big Apple. So, in August of 2021, I drove across the country in five days and moved into my new apartment in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, 2021

The plan was to attend NYU full-time and find a part-time job to pay the bills. (Also, to take on more massive-feeling loans.) I applied to a few schools in the area, just in case. To my surprise, I was offered a full-time position at the High School for Global Citizenship to teach English Language Arts. I accepted. The rest is history in the making.

I teach. I study. This is my life—no time for anything else. But I am learning, which is all that really matters. I move forward.

How did you get here? Where are you going?

One thought on “44. For My Students

  1. Diana P September 11, 2022 / 11:57 am

    Loved reading this! So many things I didn’t know about. Keep on writing, Matt!

    Liked by 1 person

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