I feel like I should be feeling a little weirder about starting at a new school this week, but I really haven’t. The transition thus far has felt natural and like a logical progression from my last school.
Last year at this time, I had a lot of hope coming out of what I then thought had been my most difficult year as a professional. I don’t know if, overall, last year got better or worse. It was definitely my best and most enjoyable as a classroom teacher, and I thoroughly enjoyed and grew from the many opportunities to interact with more teachers outside my school through organizing, the union, the media, and as a professional developer. I also enjoyed the relationships I developed as an instructional coach. At the same time, I was miserable at my school when I wasn’t in my classroom or coaching teachers. Things weren’t made easier by my choice to move to Brooklyn last summer, which meant I had over two hours of subway commuting each day (though I did read Remembrance of Things Past, so that’s off the bucket list), and the extended search for a new school took more out of me emotionally than I could have predicted.
I am really excited about a lot for this year, but at the same time, I think I have a much healthier and realistic outlook on things. Whereas my primary investment and scope of analysis for the past five years has been trying to build and improve a school, a monumental task, this year I am looking forward to “just” being a teacher again, and focusing my in-school work entirely on my students.
Following my format from last year, I’m thinking about things I’m excited for and fearful of in four different areas of my professional life:
I’m really excited to be teaching a traditional government and economics course for the first time. Much more importantly, it’s the first time I’m teaching a year long course that doesn’t end in a state exam. The freedom to finally be able to value depth over breadth is exhilarating, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the planning I’ve done so far. I know things will not go perfectly the first time around, but I’m hoping I’m laying a strong foundation this year for a course I can teach for years to come. I am also incredibly excited to be implementing a full Standards Based Grading system in my class! Without any impediments in my way, I’m eager to unleash everything I’ve learned about planning and helping students learn, while being able to fine tune some of the smaller aspects of my game.
My fear is that I won’t fully take advantage of this freedom. Sometimes I worry that teaching to a test has domesticated me. Last year I came across a unit on US Expansion I wrote as a senior in college that was exponentially better than any unit I wrote when teaching a Regents history course. I’m worried concerns about my students passing the Regents curtailed my creativity and my focus on the valuable knowledge and skills students need for life, and that I will need to unlearn a lot of what I’ve learned these past seven years. I’m also big on plans, and hope I will be able to drop everything to deeply address current events as they come up, something I’ve never felt like I’ve been able to do.
For the first time in five years, I don’t have a formal leadership role at the school level, and I’m thrilled about this. I think I need a break from leading the adults I spend every day with. With that said, I’m thrilled at two outside of school opportunities that hopefully will come to fruition. I haven’t heard anything official, but I’m really hoping to continue the work I’m doing with teachers around NYC’s new teacher evaluation system, whose pilot is expanding from 11 to 160 schools this year. I’m also in the process of creating, along with another teacher I met this summer, a Critical Friends Group for experienced NYC social studies teachers. We’re still working on details, but given that we already have 8 people signed up, it looks like it’s going to get off to a strong start. I’ll be writing more about this throughout the year, especially as part of the group will involve regular reflective writing. I’m looking forward for having some of the interaction and camaraderie I’ve found online with an in-person group that can push me much further as a teacher.
My only fear on this front is that I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut sometimes, so I may have a personal adjustment to being a team member rather than a leader at school.
I’m very glad I found another school that has an advisory system in place. Unlike my last school, where you stayed with the same students for four years as an advisor, my new school has senior teachers as senior advisers. While I’ll miss the deep relationships I developed with students over four years, I think the new system is probably more effective, and definitely more sustainable. I’m most excited that college applications happen in advisory at my new school, as I’ve always been interested in supporting the process, but didn’t much at my last school since it happened in a separate class.
With that said, I’m a little apprehensive about being a new teacher at the school, and trying to develop simultaneous relationships as both a teacher and a advisor. This probably means as an advisor I’ll be a little less personal and casual than I used to be, which is a shame, because it will lessen the degree of connection I can have with students as their advisor.
Given that I’m shifting from a 1+ hour subway commute each way to a 20 minute bike ride, there’s nothing but excitement on the personal front. My quality of life will be much higher, and I hope I can enjoy every newfound minute in it.