At 10:37, I take a left onto W 28th Street and enter the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and I slowly drive through the campus until I pop out on the other side in a sketchy neighborhood. I circle under and around the southern end of the campus, take a right onto University Avenue, and this time when I enter campus, I park in a remote northern parking lot. I don’t have a pass, but where I pull in looks like the end of the land development, so I’m not too worried about a parking ticket. I walk at a decent clip (might as well try to raise the cardio a little and make the steps count) to arrive at the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology building. I’m early for my appointment, so I slow my pace and take my time looking around the lobby before I decide to take the stairs to the next floor. The building is impressive, and I decide to check the directory to make sure I don’t do something stupid, like assume the floor number for the room where I’m headed. I feel a measure of relief when I see that room 547 is, indeed, on the fifth floor.
At 10:49, I sit at a small composite round table adjacent to 547, and I flip through an issue of Arkansas Living. In the July 2016 issue there is a two-page spread about the Bachman-Wilson House at Crystal Bridges. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house, acquired in New Jersey, and transported and rebuilt in Arkansas. I make a mental note to actually see the house, instead of just making a mental note to add this to a future unfulfilled To-Do List. Three minutes have passed. Thomas Wallace, Program Coordinator for Web Design and Development and the Information Technology Minor program (among others) says, “Vincent?” as he walks down the hall toward his room. I stand, shake his hand, and walk inside his office. He has an iMac and a MacBook Pro on his desk. His room is Spartan (environmental irony) and he has a genuine delivery. His hair is cut short and he wears a darker blue UALR polo shirt. His age is indeterminate, but I feel that he might be close to my age. He is in shape, physically. We make small talk before the information starts to flow, and he tells me that he has climbed in West Virginia a few times. He encourages me to check out northwest Arkansas, as it is clear that I like the outdoors and Arkansas has much to offer.
Before the actual appointed time of 11:00, we’ve already begun to get down to the heart of the matter–why I have contacted him, and why I asked for a face-to-face with him. I explain how I am ready to leave my English classroom, but that I am not quite “through” with education. I explain how I have a deep love for technology, but that I have not formally studied it. I offer truncated versions of why the education industry, at least at my level, is fairly terrible, and why I am attempting to evolve my employment. I talk about a failed online school with massive funding and zero buy-in, and I share three anecdotes about students really not knowing how to do anything with technology. I throw in the term “digital native” and scoff at it, mostly due to the fact that I will never miss a chance to mention Mark Bauerlein’s Dumbest Generation.
I have been a teacher for 3,711 days. That is 5.34 million minutes too long.
Mr. Wallace breaks down the details of what UALR’s IT departments aim to do. He profiles some of the partnerships, and he shares some insights as to how he thinks certain programs may benefit me. He mentions that he feels I could also be an asset to a few of the programs. I shake his hand at 11:36, and I am filled with something I do not understand as I walk out of the EIT building. I cross two parking lots and stop to take two pictures as I try to sort out what I am feeling. It is hope. It is a different kind of hope.
At 11:47, I drive east through run-down neighborhoods that eventually lead to the area near the capitol building. Barred and boarded windows abruptly become Starbucks and the Childrens’ Hospital, and I’m on 13th Street, looking left and right at scores of businesses, some of which I might not ever see unless I take an errant route. My phone keeps updating my route and offering multiple upcoming turns in the hopes that I may course-correct and take the most efficient path. I decline.
At 12 noon I am drinking a scarlet red Berliner Weisse at Lost Forty, and although it looks like fruit punch or a sorority girl’s jungle juice, I don’t care. It’s delicious. I eat a small lunch. At 12:26, I am unexpectedly near tears when I hear Thom Yorke’s falsetto voice float down from the warehouse ceiling. Denial, deniiialll. It’s “House of Cards.” That strange hope that now made it hard to swallow, and I have to lean back to redirect my watery eyes. I crane my neck to make sure it’s Radiohead, and I pay the bill as I listen to the rest of the song. I snap a picture of Bald Bull on “Punch-Out!” on my way out to the car. I have a Crowler of Wet Hop Ale for when I get home.
I listen to a few songs as I drive north across the bridge and head west toward home. I have my phone plugged into an FM modulator and I am playing a few songs from a Playstation video game soundtrack. At a long red light, I pull off to quickly check out a sizable junkyard hidden in a grove of trees right off of the main artery of Maumelle Boulevard. I’m surprised by the gems hidden inside. There is a miniature mansion across the street from the entrance. I leave the Acura running; I don’t know who runs this forest, or if there are surprise guard dogs. I snap a few pics and retreat. Before I climb back in, I look north behind my SUV and see the sun reflecting from the Arkansas River.
Hope persists as I pull into the driveway, and I realize that in one hundred and fifty school days, I will not teach English again. I may not be in a classroom again. Ashley has become a pioneer (O, pioneer!) and has 2,400 classroom minutes remaining, if she finishes her notice. She is free. I am not far behind.
I will finish the school year. I would like to break contract right now–today–but I won’t. I can carefully shape the clay of this dream, and I can cultivate the energies to direct them efficiently.