“There’s truth in every story told.” –Neil Gaiman
Last spring, when I made a commitment to my administration that I would create, develop and lead curriculum and classes for the critical and important vision of bringing technology instruction for our students; however, I wasn’t quite ready to give up ELA. I hoped to be able to continue my work in ELA and at least have one class. But it wasn’t meant to be, and I even knew it last year. Some instinct whispered to me, but I ignored it. Something didn’t sit right, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. My premonitions are usually accurate: it’s my lack of ability to stop or mend potential events where I struggle. English/Language Arts pumps my teaching heart with blood and purpose for the past eleven years: curriculum leader for five years, collaborative teams, professional development, hours of my own blogging, writing, research: every time a test changed or standards flowed in, I took it as a personal challenge to grow and adapt, all in order to help my students grow and adapt. I am not an outwardly competitive person (which I think confuses competitive people: I am my harshest critic), but my internalized coach is demanding. I have not found a teaching problem that can’t be solved with discussion, reading, trying: isolation is its kryptonite, however. Teaching is breathing: no oxygen = death.
If you take the time to read the thread above when I found out a week into the school year I wouldn’t be able to keep the ELA class, that hit me hard. The repercussions of this meant I wouldn’t be able to meet with beloved colleagues during PLCs and continue the work we’ve created in any formal way. The thousands of dollars of books, the Lord of the Flies unit, the planning, the money, the time, the curriculum –hours of the years, and the summer–stopped. Continuity and conversations: muted.
So when I process and grieve that due to numbers, budgets, and hard decisions that may or may not be in the process behind the scenes for over a year and I lost my one ELA class, please understand that need to reflect and process, but I will remain strong. And — full disclosure: the computer technology work I’ve been doing parallel these past eleven years, too, is also my heart. This is going to be very powerful indeed. I have my friend John Spencer in our decade-long digital friendship and discussion, my colleagues who know me, I share willingly and listen with open ears. My curiosity is a gift.
As I write this, pour a cup of coffee, I realize I am lucky, maybe even blessed, not cursed: our district is in big financial trouble. Being a building union representative, I’ve monitored this issue for some time now. We teachers and our building administration are justifiably scared. With fear comes an outward display of anger. From the information we’ve listened to in horror at union meetings, a few dozen teachers were forced to move to positions they didn’t want, or have the necessary credentials for. Trust me: if the district moved me to a calculus classroom parents could sue for educational malpractice. There isn’t enough Khan Academy in the world to catch me up in that content area.
But as my friend and mentor said, good teaching is good teaching. I am fortunate that my style and approach has never been concrete-content driven, but big picture learning. We create scientists, mathematicians, historians, journalist, writers, readers, and thinkers. I’m looking forward to continuing this work.
The Great Handshake started a series on teacher hacks. While the word ‘hack’ connotes a modern sense of coolness and ingenuity, it doesn’t really serve the powerful message of the posts. “Conferences that work” artfully and subtly underscores how data has gone wrong in a few powerful sentences: (typos are the writer’s: pay not attention)
“My principal and I have started to call these meetings “data chats.” At first, I thought that was a great name. But then, as is often the case, adults started to ruin the word “data.” People start to think that we are turning kids into numbers and charts, and forgetting the humanity that makes teaching and learning so challenging and meaningful.
But this kind of data is full of humanity. In fact, on countless occasions, students have cried about challenging years while recounting why certain times in their school experience were harder than others. Teachers have to be prepared to hear about pain that students should never have to endure, and reasons why they failed all of their classes a given year. At other times, students laugh as they remember middle school, goofing off, and all of that pre-pubescent confusion. During these conferences teachers morph from planners of individual instruction, to listeners and amatuer councelors, to friends, to mentors, to motivators and to all the other roles wedged in between those.”
Read some of his comments and noticings for the student. If I were her, there is no way I would leave that conversation without finding my dignity, integrity and moreover, power again. She is a lucky student.
But it shouldn’t take “luck.” Conferencing, relationships, conversations and heartfelt, sincerity supports all of us, teachers and students alike.Our building is fortunate to have strong leadership now. However, if we don’t have a role model or leader who promotes warmth and fairness amongst the staff, we must steal it for ourselves in order to have the strength to have the loving, difficult conversations with students. To reframe and refocus: “Yes, you are more than a test score. And here is why.”
What I research, read, think about, write about: all of that may not mean anything to the district, administration, or leaders. They have their own purposes and to-do lists. So, I’ll continue to grow back my tails, fluff my knickers, and carry on.
I have important work to do: