Tomorrow is the first official back for NYC teachers, and the students follow us for a half day on Wednesday before a four-day weekend thanks to the Jewish holidays. So while school won’t really start for another week, today really feels like the last day of summer.
Last year was probably my most difficult in the profession. I took on a group of a 15 most challenging seniors and taught them a seminar that allowed them to get support in earning whatever credits they needed to graduate, in addition to preparing them for the NY State Exams they lacked. When the students were there, it was successful, but attendance was atrocious through much of the year and I felt like I was wasting my time during the second half. I also taught junior US History for the third straight year and found myself bored with the curriculum. I should have done significant revisions, but it was the last year the course was to be offered so I middled through what I had done previously. It was a successful course, but I was bored with it and counting down the days until I finished. It was also my final year with my advisory, which brought its own cornucopia of challenges.
Leadership-wise, I served as the co-12th grade team leader, and our class of 2010 was a frustrating class for most of us and myself. They lacked the leadership and sense of community that our first two classes had (and new seniors have), which was re-enforced by a group of advisers and teachers who really weren’t sure what else they could do for them at many points. In the end, there were 18 students who should have graduated in June and didn’t. I spent my summer helping 11 of those to the finish line, the last of whom finished work for me on Friday. In the end, is probably what I’m most proud about from last year. All these challenges were on top of it being our first year under our school’s second principal.
So I am quite glad to finally have the 2009-10 school year behind me. But as I look ahead to 2010-11, I’m finding exciting and nervousness in equal amounts around four parts of my professional life:
The last time I taught Ancient Global History was during the first Bush Jr. administration, and I was living south of the Mason-Dixon line. This year, as we are in the 3rd year of bringing in a new social studies scope and sequence, my 11th grade class changes to Global History Through 1900. I never thought I would be excited to teach this content again, but this is the most anticipation I’ve felt for a class since my first year teaching US. In planning this course, I’m getting two firsts: it’s the first time I’m planning a course where I am really confident that I know what I am doing, and it is the first time I’ve had a planning team to plan with me. Both of these factors give me confidence that this will be the best course I’ve ever taught. I feel like we have a strong curriculum, some great projects, and that I have mastered the regents prep side of the course.
With that said, this is also the first time I’ve taught a new course with a team, and I have a teaching partner in one of my 3 sections. I’m nervous about relying on others and about the compromising that will be necessary to make my partnership a success. (I’m also sad that I will not be teaching the English course I was slotted to teach, but a couple summer personnel departures forced the change in my program).
I have spent the last three years as a Grade Team and Advisory Team Leader. This year I will take on the role of Social Studies Department Chair, which will bring with it a decrease in my teaching load so I can observe and coach other teachers. While this is a lateral move within my school’s organization, it is the first time my leadership will really focus on how we teach, which is what is the most important part of schools for me. I’m really excited to be a part of these conversations, especially with our two new social studies teachers as I help them transition to Bronx Lab.
However, while the chair at my school is supposed to be more of a facilitator, I can already feel a real difference in how other teachers are looking to me. While in my head I’m still a pretty young teacher who still needs to learn and make mistakes, I’ve already seen that more and more staff are looking to me for answers and solutions. Just as being a teacher requires one to be on at all points in the classroom, I’m realizing that I’m going to have to be on at all points when I’m with other adults as well. Our school has always had significant staff turnover, but in the last two years that has included 5 of the top 6 leaders in the school, including both principal and assistant principal. Somehow, I am 7th on the school seniority list. Those of us who have been secondary or tertiary leadership in my school are all going to need to step up our games and take on new roles, while ensuring that we are developing new leaders alongside us. I am feeling more pressure as a leader than I have ever felt before.
One of the best parts of my school is its advisory system. Every teacher takes on a group of students as 9th graders, who they remain with through their senior year. As an advisory, one is a teacher, guidance counselor, sometimes social worker, and occasional stand-in parent to students. Having just watched my first group of advisees graduate, I can see that being an adviser was both the most rewarding and challenging part of my past four years. This year, I’ll be adopting another group of seniors whose advisor left the school.
While I taught many of them and know all of them, I’m apprehensive about stepping into a well-established group dynamic. I know I won’t be able to develop the same relationships in one year with this group as I did in my four with my previous group, but I really hope that I will still be able to support all of them in reaching the finish line in June.
My wife and I decided to move to Brooklyn this summer. I lived here when I first moved to NYC in 2005, and missed it ever since we left. I have loved every minute of my summer here, but now will be beginning and ending my day with an hour on the 2-train. My commute, which was already long, will now take more than two hours of my day every day. It’s going to be a drain.
However, I’m looking at this as an opportunity that will allow me to continue my engagement with the blogosphere and twitter-verse that I re-entered this summer. It has been great to get ideas and resources from others, but I think what has been most helpful to me is taking the time to sit, think, reflect, and write about my practice. I have done this sporadically at times thourghout my career, but I am feeling committed right now to making it a regular part of my professional development. In addition to using my train time for grading and planning, I hope reflective writing will remain a part of my life during the school year as it has been this summer.