“Well, do you want to fence, or do you want to brawl?”

Antioch Unified School Board of Trustees board room Banner

Today marks day three of my internship at the Antioch Unified School District. Thus far, this experience has been marked by lots of catching up with old teachers (this used to be my school district), Board meetings, project assignments, as well as extended explanations of what I majored in at Berkeley (a favorite topic of conversation). To be quite honest, it has already exceeded expectations. Having just recently finished an internship at the machine that is the U.S. Department of Education, it is surprisingly refreshing to be in such a small local education agency. For example, today my supervisor (shout-out to Kellie) took four hours to personally introduce me to every office at the district site just to make sure everyone knew who I was. This stands in stark contrast to being a low-level replaceable intern at the Department of Education in D.C.

This is all to say in my short-three days at AUSD I have felt completely welcome and appreciated. However, there is one question that has bothered me; “why are you here.” People at the district office as well as several of my peers ask this question of me. In most instances this question is asked after I give a brief overview of my education and professional background (which is fairly extensive). My interpretation of this question is that I am somehow “too good” to be working at this level of education. On the one hand, this is flattering. But on the other hand, it is quite concerning. Why can’t someone like me work here? Shouldn’t qualified individuals be seeking these types of jobs? I found myself getting more annoyed by this question (even though folks were harmlessly asking), and I got caught up in over-analyzing the implications of this type of thinking.

That is, until I met Jason Murphy, the Director of Educational Services and UC Berkeley alumni. We got to talking about my post-grad plans. Somewhat embarrassed, I told him how much I enjoy reading Local Control Accountability Plans and how I’d be at the Board of Trustee meeting that night because they were going to discuss the 2016-2017 LCAP. I then proceeded to call myself a nerd. He asked why I thought that. I explained that it isn’t really that “cool” to graduate from Berkeley and want to work at such a local level. This embarrassment, I realize now, stemmed from constantly being asked, “why are you here.” This question made me think maybe I shouldn’t be there, and maybe I should be doing something more “worthy” of my time as this big-shot academic. Mr. Murphy then asked me a very simple question; “well, do you want to fence, or do you want to brawl?” He explained that working at places like the Brookings Institute is similar to fencing. It is this meticulous act of research, writing, and overall academic practices. Working as an administrator is like brawling. Its being able to navigate the political system and make legislation actually work in implementation and practice. Now I’m not going to pretend like this 15-minute conversation somehow helped me discern what it is I want to do with my life (I’m still very confused). But what I do know is that there are right questions that you can ask someone, and for now I definitely want to brawl.