In the summer of 2011, a few months after I graduated, I moved to Denver to teach language arts. Certified by an alternative licensure program for secondary education, I was hired to teach sixth-, 10th- and 12th-graders in varying capacities at Venture Prep Charter School. Since then, my position has changed, but it has been my job the whole time to figure out ways to improve students’ reading and writing skills. It has been the realization of a life goal—and a true honor—to have that responsibility.
In my Denver classroom, concepts from education textbooks were immediately clarified with pure experience. My public policy studies degree was put to the test in a real school with a real community populated by real people. And—who could forget?!—the Denver Broncos made the playoffs with Tim Tebow, and then promptly gave him up for a gentleman named Peyton Manning.
Tebow and Manning have become analogies for my teaching career. They have become so ingrained into my Sundays and my concept of myself that it makes sense that their jerseys are hanging on my wall, above the TV. They’re knock-offs (I’m a teacher) but the connections are real to me.
What follows will provide a glimpse into my time as a teacher and the way I often organize my thoughts nowadays. Yes, it’s a five-paragraph essay. And, yes, I’ll be using it in my class in January to cover one of my third-quarter learning targets.
Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Alex Klein—these three men have all carried their teams to victory. They have done so in different ways, though. The latter is me, Mr. Klein, language arts teacher in Denver. The two NFL players are metaphors for the experiences I have had in my first two years of teaching. Their seasons with the Denver Broncos in 2011 and 2012, respectively, have exposed similarities to my teaching career in three ways: Our entrances mirrored each other; our performance levels were synchronized over time; and people’s expectations of us followed a similar trajectory. Noticing the connections has been both eerie and motivational.
The first similarity between the last two years of Broncos quarterbacks and my teaching career is our entrances to our positions. Tebow, functionally a rookie, was brought in to replace an overwhelmed Kyle Orton, who was unprepared to lead a professional team. I was hired three weeks after the school year began in 2011 because enrollment was higher than anticipated and had left the current teachers overburdened with too many students and classes. Manning, however, was selected for his position from many candidates; his veteran status made him more attractive for a big switch. Having completed my first year of teaching (rarer than one might expect), I was a “veteran,” and made the big switch to teaching only seventh grade. In the past two years, the Broncos quarterbacks and I had similar beginnings.
Next, a trend emerged in the performance metrics of the Denver quarterbacks and me. Though Tebow was aiming for fellow Broncos—indeed, trying his hardest for touchdowns of any kind—his six interceptions, seven fumbles and 46.5 percent completion percentage held the team back. He ran the same three plays and could not manage the clock. In my first year, I had a limited understanding of curricular and planning strategies. Lessons tanked or veered from their charted course and variety in the classroom meant writing on the board with a different color dry-erase marker. Manning, on the other hand, is an expert in making adjustments and using data to inform his choices and priorities. Halfway through the 2012 season, he has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. There are hints of Manning’s style in my classroom this year: quarterly third-party assessments, 6 a.m. lesson re-writes, intelligent groupings by past achievement, robust plans and a blazing fast pace. Still, though, Manning and I stumbled at first. His three first-quarter interceptions in Atlanta were matched with my first-quarter struggles in Room 209, where my temper was flaring and I hadn’t yet adjusted to my much younger audience. The similarities between Tebow’s, Manning’s and my achievement levels during the year are striking.
Lastly, the expectations that surrounded us as we did our jobs shared parallel trajectories. Tebow, who had thrown only 82 passes the previous year, was in his first real position of responsibility in 2011. His newness was endearing and earned him patience and gratitude for the most basic feats. Touchdowns were celebrated like Super Bowl rings in sports bars and apartments across Denver, and we were happy to scrape by, winning games by three points at the last second. In my classroom, I was successful if I taught my learning targets and did my best to be a professional. As long as I met the basic expectations—on time to my duties, accurate grades, written lesson plans—I was considered a success. Manning, on the other hand, arrived to expectations of excellence on the field and leadership off of it. He was to be father, coach, cheerleader and player, and he had better lead the team to double-digit wins or encounter the wrath of columnists. As middle school language arts department chair, I, too, encountered much higher expectations for leadership of others and high achievement in my classroom. Facilitating student government means after-school snack must be served, the recycling taken out, the school store kept orderly and profitable. Just as the lower expectations for Tebow babied him, the high hopes for Manning have pushed him—and I followed closely to this model.
The quarterback in me doesn’t have the national stage, the millions of dollars or the name recognition. However, I do have fans, followers and a lot of fun, just like Tebow and Manning. These two NFL players had very different experiences in Denver over the last two seasons, and so have I in my first two years of teaching. The Broncos quarterbacks’ two seasons are analogous to my two years in many ways. First, our arrivals to our positions shared common characteristics. Second, our levels of achievement in our professions followed the same curve. Third, others looked to us for similar levels of leadership as the years went on. Just as Peyton Manning’s age and neck injury leave his long-term staying power uncertain, the challenges of leading 78 students every day leave questions for me about the future. Life has imitated Broncos QBs all this way. I’ll be watching closely in January.