“Everywhere we go, always take the weather with you…”
We move through the world, on our own narrow trajectories, new places, friends, lost and found, along the way. Thinking the other day of what it’s like to join a new community as a teacher, I am no expert. Some teachers stay relatively in the same building for years, and others jump around a bit more. I’ve changed districts three times, and reflecting on that, it’s been imbalanced.
When moving to a new teaching community, we can only bring the person we are. We come with our own narratives: hurt, experiences, successes, etc. We craft our identities based on our values:
- Mutual respect
- Listen to understand, not respond
- Love language in education
Thinking of my own professional timeline, twelve years at a Title I middle school, one year at another, and now at an alternative high school in my third district, with a new position as the ELL/ELA and ELL Study Skills teacher, and a Check/Connect time. I really admire and appreciate my principal and assistant principal. It’s a small, tight-knit staff, overall. There are prior grievances and interpersonal conflicts, of course. And I’m finding who aligns with my values for the workplace, and more importantly, our students. Culturally relevant teaching, engaging, representational literature and texts, student support and connections: I can infer which staff members feel the same way I do. It takes time. For example, I put these posters outside the room I share, and one of the teachers happened down the hallway, and they brought up a great discussion about a new Netflix show she shows students, “One Strange Rock.”
Now I’m navigating other treacherous waters. I have the full support of my admin, who has made it very clear I am in charge, he hired ME and my expertise, and to make the program my own. I am giddy and energized by this. And then, on Friday, (and there’s context here I won’t get into) a mentor basically cut me off and said, not quite in a loud voice, but kind of, sort of, loud and aggressive, at least to my ears, “WE ALL KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW, KELLY!” Fortunately, I don’t think anyone else heard her, but I can’t be sure. I have a habit of prefacing a statement with context, but once in awhile this irritates others. It’s a gopher hole I step in, unintentionally, of course, but it’s painful nonetheless. I stayed calm and approached it from another angle (because she was basically telling me what to do, how to do it, etc.) I am a master of reading subtext, and am growing in my skills of how to use it to maintain good, collegial relationships: it’s a balance between cowering in fear and advocating for myself. Essentially, I maintained the pitch of my own voice, and said I have been teaching at Title I schools with 80% free and reduced lunch for thirteen years, with a deep and wide ELL population. Please do not assume I’ve been teaching at suburban schools with a largely white, native speaking population. (What prompted this was she said I wasn’t used to teaching ELL kids.)
What do we do when someone makes assumptions about us that are inaccurate? How much is self-advocating versus going overboard? My exuberance is both a fatal flaw and blessing. And all I can control is my own language and responses:
- Use more ‘we’ language
- More sentences that recognize others’ accomplishments
- More acknowledgement of what others’ contributed and how it’s valuable
- Don’t tell others my plans.* (Because that takes away their chance to dart throw.)
- When we meet others who are clearly more interested in their agenda, smile, nod and do what’s best for students.
- Seek instructional allies. You will find them. Have faith and trust.
- Like writing workshop feedback, take the comments and suggestions and just say “thank you” — the root of ‘author’ is ‘authority’ – believe in the agency of your actions, accomplishments, and abilities.
*With this caveat: if others ask, share. If not–watch out for that gopher hole. Notice who’s receptive and who’s not. Those are your allies.
Insecurity takes root and I notice my language, (in an attempt to be humble yet not let others make assumptions about me), takes on this “Here is my resume. This is what I’ve done. This is what I know how to do” tone. Especially when cornered by others of authority and matronly posturing. Probably need some therapy for this, but in the meantime…I’ll just try to write, reflect, and take my own advice.
PS I wish there was a job in schools of a teacher liaison –not a union building rep, but SEL for staff!