Toby’s Words: Cele­brat­ing Ten Years at Waverly

I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the Waverly School in April of 2002. At the time I was working for Teach­ers on Reserve, which is an agency that place

Waverly Faculty Photo1

s substi­tute teach­ers in Los Angeles area private schools. That day, I walked in and met Heidi, who directed me to the first and second grade class­room, right next to her office. I met the lead teacher, Lisa Ann, who intro­duced me to her class, the Leaf­seek­ers. The chil­dren were warm and welcom­ing and completely charm­ing. That first day, we did circle time, read books, prac­ticed spelling; the chil­dren wrote stories using invented spelling when they didn’t know how to spell a word. We ate lunch outside and played in the yard. Since I had recently moved back to the States from Japan, I taught the Leaf­seek­ers some basic Japan­ese greet­ings and a short song called Kaeru No Uta.” I hoped I would be back. Fortu­nately, Lisa Ann felt the same about me and I was invited to work as her assis­tant for the remain­der of the school year. By the next Friday All School Meeting, the Leaf­seek­ers were singing Kaeru No Uta” in a round, supremely confi­dent doing so. Back then, the middle and elemen­tary school shared the current elemen­tary campus. I had the oppor­tu­nity to meet chil­dren from ages four to four­teen and get to know their teach­ers as well. I noticed that Waverly students had a true enthu­si­asm for learn­ing and an excite­ment to come to school each day. I heard music coming from most class­rooms at some point during the day. I watched the assis­tant teach­ers inter­act with the chil­dren on the play­ground and witnessed a deep and abiding respect. Teach­ers always respected the feel­ings of chil­dren and taught them how to navi­gate their world while showing respect and love for others and the community.

At that time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make teach­ing my career. I had been teach­ing English as a foreign language and Amer­i­can culture for the previ­ous four years in the Japan­ese public schools through the JET Programme. Although I loved being in the class­room, I wanted to use my degree in envi­ron­men­tal studies as an advo­cate for the envi­ron­ment. Just before coming to Waverly, I had inter­viewed for a job at South­ern Cali­for­nia Edison in the envi­ron­men­tal affairs depart­ment and I wanted the job badly. After a multi-round inter­view process, the woman at SCE called to tell me that she really wanted to hire me, but was forced to fill the posi­tion in-house. When Heidi let me know that she had a posi­tion teach­ing math and science in the middle school the follow­ing fall, I was free to pursue it. Within days of signing a contract to teach at Waverly, SCE called back and offered me the posi­tion I had desper­ately wanted. I let them know I wasn’t avail­able anymore, but asked if maybe I could work during the summer on a contract basis. So I did. My dream job turned out not to be such a dream…more like a cubicle night­mare. Although I was earning signif­i­cantly more that I earned as a teacher, I hated it! At that point, I knew teach­ing would be my career, and as it turns out, I did find my dream job – here at Waverly.

That fall, I began teach­ing in the middle school and the first week of school, we took a class trip to Catalina Island, which was a perfect way to get to know my students. My first few years in the middle school where exhil­a­rat­ing, enlight­en­ing, and exhaust­ing. I learned so much about becom­ing an effec­tive teacher from my colleagues Robin and James, and Heidi’s feed­back that first year was invalu­able. At that time, I had inher­ited a terri­ble set of middle school science text books that did not include any mate­ri­als or instruc­tions for how to do labs or hands-on activ­i­ties. I asked other science teach­ers what they were doing, I researched online. I attended confer­ences and went to work­shops focused on middle school science. I had also been reading the works of Dewey and Piaget and think­ing about how to apply their philoso­phies to older chil­dren. Even­tu­ally, I found a curricu­lum that I believed fit Waverly’s philos­o­phy perfectly. I was very nervous when I approached Heidi about purchas­ing the curricu­lum for the middle school because it was very expen­sive. Not only was Heidi support­ive of adopt­ing the curricu­lum, she has encour­aged me to attend profes­sional devel­op­ment that has allowed me to imple­ment the curricu­lum more effectively.

This is just one reason why working at Waverly has been my dream job. There are many other reasons. Waverly students are kind, polite, caring, respect­ful, and eager to learn. Even after they leave the middle school, we can main­tain a rela­tion­ship, since most of them move on to our high school next door. Waverly parents are support­ive, gener­ous, and so posi­tive. They chap­er­one field trips and dances, orga­nize incred­i­ble events like the World Market and Silent Auction, and have really trans­formed the farm over the last decade. Further­more, Heidi and the admin­is­tra­tion have given me tremen­dous support as I have become a parent and require more flex­i­bil­ity in my sched­ule. I have had gener­ous mater­nity leaves and will have been able to breast­feed both of my chil­dren past their first birth­days while working full time. I don’t even have words to describe my respect and admi­ra­tion for my fellow teach­ers here in the middle school. They are incred­i­ble educa­tors and teach their students so much more than their partic­u­lar subjects. As a teacher, I can’t imagine being a part of a more caring and respect­ful commu­nity. In the inter­ven­ing ten years, a handful of those Leaf­seek­ers have grown up into juniors and seniors at the high school. When they passed through seventh and eighth grade several years ago, their person­al­i­ties were much as they were in first and second grade, but their intel­lec­tual and emotional growth during those two years was incred­i­ble to watch. I feel the same about every group of students I’ve taught in the middle school, which is why I partic­u­larly love teach­ing this age group. Now, some of those Leaf­seek­ers are young men and women and they are decid­ing where they will be attend­ing college in the fall. I feel so very proud of them and proud of Waverly. Just as my students have matured and grown into young adults, Waverly has grown as an insti­tu­tion in innu­mer­able ways. I am so excited and honored to begin my next decade here.