First Semester Review

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Being a new teacher at a new school isn’t that much different from being a new teacher, period. New students, new systems, new culture, new schedule…new…everything. This newness has been especially, well, new, because the new job also came with a new part of the country (I moved from northern Arizona to northern California in June). Since the point of this blog was, initially, to reflect on my teaching practice in preparation for National Board, I thought I’d write down some of the highlights/what I’ve learned in my first semester in my new position.

1. Lasting change happens slowly. At my last school, we were small and change could happen on a whim. Want to change your curriculum? Consider it done. Cancel that course, and swap it out for something different? No problem. Change the schedule to account for half the student body catching the flu? Sounds like a good idea. But because those changes were so specific to the people implementing them, they didn’t always stick. The personality of the school changed with the people working there. I think there are definite benefits to this kind of institutional flexibility, and it made for a more dynamic and responsive work environment. But more lasting change—especially at a larger institution—happens over time and requires system-wide buy-in. Top-down change is less-effective than grassroots change, and enduring change comes from deliberation and consensus.

2. Collaborating takes patience, prioritization, and vision. My teaching style differs from the that of my department. This has posed a problem at points during the semester, because I co-teach both of my courses, and the school culture is such that courses are uniform, and don’t differ according to the teacher. So, my curriculum and lesson planning must match the other teacher teaching the course. I believe in the merits of my own approach, but I also see the strengths inherent in the teaching styles of the more veteran teachers with whom I work. So, I have had to consider which battles are worth fighting: which curriculum can I let go? Which do I fight for? Where do I compromise, and how can I be useful? It’s become clear to me over the last few months that keeping an end goal in mind, and recognizing the stuff that’s essential versus the stuff that’s mostly about my own ego, are essential to making collaboration work.

3. There are no emergencies in education. My mom, who is an interventions teacher in Utah, had a boss who told her this. We are not doing life-saving surgery, or pulling people out of burning buildings, and education is about winning wars, not battles. Education is a long-term process, and it’s unlikely that any given lesson or test score will determine anyone’s future. In education, things happen over time, and though we as teachers feel like everything’s an emergency, in reality, nothing really is. This has been especially hard, and important, to keep in mind, in my current school environment, where expectations are high and anxiety runs higher. Just because a student believes her test score is an emergency does not mean that it is, and part of my job is to help her to understand that.

4. September is fun, October is the worst, and November is a beautiful thing. In September we are fresh from summer vacation, armed with new school supplies and new lesson plans, and once again convinced of our ability to save the world. In October, we are faced with midterms, tired kids, and weeks on end with no relent. And November brings Thanksgiving and the promise of Winter Break. Next time around I need to remember that October is not forever and just when you think you WILL QUIT TEACHING AND NEVER RETURN, November will be here to save your life!

4. Not working is important. Probably the thing that made the most difference in my professional life this semester has been focusing on enjoying myself outside of work, instead of letting work bleed into my non-working hours (how is it that I had an easier time with work/life balance when I worked in a boarding school??). In the depths of October I made a resolution to work when I was at work, and otherwise, to not work. I decided to only wake up extra-early if I had papers to grade, to finish my work at work, and then only start back in on prepping for the week on Sunday afternoon. I’ve shut it off on weekday evenings, and Friday night and Saturday are off-limits.

On that note, I wanted to introduce an Instagram account I started. It’s called teacherweekend, and I started it because I realized that this blog was keeping me accountable with regards to thinking carefully about teaching, but nothing was keeping me accountable with regards to, like, enjoying myself. I think teachers, especially, have a hard time turning work off, and so I’m posting photos in an effort to remind myself (and other budding teachers out there—I’m looking at you, Nancy) that not working is as important as working. Your work will be better work if you do it when you’re rested and happy. As of now I’ve not been great about posting to the account, but my New Years’ resolution is to do a fun thing every weekend and take a picture.

So on THAT note, happy holiday season to everyone, and happy winter break to my teacher friends!

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