Just about a year ago this time, I was on a train from DC to Philadelphia. I find myself taking that same train again. This is somewhat bizarre, as I generally avoid DC, but here I am. Last year, I was here for the SOS March, this year for a Gilder Lehrman seminar with Jeff Rosen called Constitution 3.0 (more on that wonderful experience to come). Both years, I’m on my way to meet with a group of wonderful teacher-leaders who have joined me over the past 12 months in participating in ongoing support and development in the panacea of roles we fill. Five professors from the Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education, who generously decided they wanted to continue to support former students, brought us together.
Leaving DC last year I was tired. I was tired of fighting, both in and out of school. We were fresh off Wisconsin and Cathy Black. On top of that, I had just left Bronx Lab, a school I had been part of since its second year, and to a large extent, I felt like I was just getting out of an abusive relationship (we had some great times together, and a huge part of me still loves her, but she was no good for me any more).
My experiences in Philadelphia last year rejuvenated me, and set me on the course towards many wonderful parts of my past year. I had the idea for my Critical Friends Group there, and was really pushed to seek wider audiences for my writing.
With that said, even leaving Philadelphia last year, I was fried as a teacher-leader in schools. I could not have imagined last year that I would be co-founding a school twelve months later.
I can do that now because between CETE, a wonderful year at Young Writers, and continuing relationships with wonderful organizations like the Center for Teaching Quality and the Center for Inspired Teaching, I can now answer the question I asked myself a year ago, “which side am I on?”:
In the past couple of years, I’ve had increasing opportunities to act outside of my school in three different realms of teacher leadership: activism/advocacy, curricular and assessment development, and mentoring/professional development. There are strong parts of me drawn to all three realms, but I am beginning to feel like a house and writer divided. While to some extent all three realms of leadership are interconnected, I am wondering if it might be time to focus on one realm over the other two.
I’m now clear I’m on the side of making sure what happens in classrooms is worthwhile and effective. This involves looking at students, teachers, and the relationship each has with curriculum. That means that I have a clear focus on curriculum & assessment and ensuring that teachers are ready to design and implement both effectively. But it also means engaging with activism and advocacy to make sure conditions are right to allow that to happen. I think I can help make this happen in a school, and I hope I will be able to continue exert some influence beyond my school through writing, working with teachers, and working with the UFT, CTQ, and other coalitions to better the conditions for teaching and learning.
Sitting on the train last year, I didn’t know where I was going. It’s nice to not only have a clear destination this year, but also the tools I hope will help me get there.