I’m moving in twenty-five days. Less than four weeks from now, I’ll leave for work from my home of seven years and never return to it.
My eventual destination? Vancouver.
And I’m flipping excited.
I cannot even put into words how excited I am about being able to walk everywhere; I long for it every time my blood pressure spikes in a suburban parking lot. I’m looking forward to choosing between more than two allergy-friendly restaurants when I want to go out for dinner. I cannot wait to have dog-friendly parks within walking distance – to take Peanut to a park without having to put her into the car first.
So, yes, we’re trading in 1600 square feet of suburban stretching room for a Vancouver condo that’s half the size. And it feels so right.
Without a doubt, it’s the ideal move for my little family. But I can’t escape one little wisp of unease about leaving Surrey.
Because I’m not just leaving a city: I’m leaving my students.
No, I’m not quitting teaching, or even planning to transfer districts – ever. But I do wonder what message it will send to the kids that I choose not to live where they do. I know that a lot of teachers commute, and it’s probably never come up as an issue, but I’m not a lot of teachers. I’m me. And I have a certain amount of pride at being raised in Surrey, and in choosing to live and work here.
And – to be frank – it has helped me to build rapport with my students.
See, Surrey doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s a city that has more than doubled in population during my lifetime, and has the growing pains that that kind of increase brings. There are a whole whack of sociological, geographic, and economic factors than contribute to this city being the way it is.
But my students don’t know any of those. They just know that their city shows up in the news a lot. And that’s it’s not normally for good things. Perhaps surprisingly, that does actually have an effect on the teens that I teach.
So, when I’m able to tell them that I went to school in the same city, that I grew up not far from them, and that life has turned out pretty darn swell, I can see some of their brains working. They don’t see themselves in the news stories and city stereotypes. And they don’t see me in them either. But the fact that I grew up in a supposedly undesirable place – and that I still live there – challenges what they think they know about their city and their prospects in life.
And I know that sounds terribly pompous – that I think I have that effect on my students – but they’re more affected by what they see and hear than they’ll ever admit.
This year, when I was telling my English 11 class about some difference between their school and another I had taught at, one of my students asked me which of the schools I’ve taught at is my favourite. So, I was honest: I told them that it was their school – where I’m teaching now.
They didn’t believe me.
I had to explain that my elementary school used to feed into their high school. I had to tell them I spent most of my childhood planning on attending their school. I had to share that I have friends who graduated from their school. I had to remind them that I went to high school only twenty-five blocks away, and that they’re unlikely to get through a whole school year without running into me at the mall or grocery store, because I still live in the area.
Only then did they stop laughing away the possibility that I do actually choose to hang out and teach in their area of the city.
It made me sad that they thought I just flit into their classroom to teach, then immediately get the hell out of dodge as quickly as possible when the bell rings.
Which is, of course, exactly what I’m about to start doing.
And I worry what message my students will infer from that. I hope that I can continue to build rapport and trust based on shared history, even if our presents are diverging. I hope they don’t interpret my move as some statement about the desirability of their city – and by extension their upbringings and themselves.
Because their present is my past.
But my future is waiting for me in Vancouver.