I think this may be my favorite piece to write each year, but I can’t imagine I will ever be less able to capture my hopes and fears in words than I can now. Not since my first year teaching, and maybe not even then, have I started a year with such overwhelming feelings of excitement, apprehension, nervousness, anticipation, and helplessness.
Harvest is Now Real
Eight months ago I sat down for coffee with Kate and Atash, the principal and social worker of what was then “The Harvest School,” something that only existed in their dreams and on some paper. That evening, I became the first teacher to join the planning team. Paul, our science teacher, joined a few days later.
For eight months, the hopes and dreams have gotten bigger and bigger. Our team of dreamers has expanded slowly as more teachers joined, and we began to share dreams with our future students and their families. Tomorrow morning, when 120 or so 9th graders walk in, Harvest Collegiate High School will be real.
Eight months ago the school was a newly-approved proposal. Tomorrow, our students will walk into a fully conceived institution. To the best of my knowledge, we are ready in every which way a school can be (with the exception that a lot of supplies still haven’t arrived). I have worked with amazing teams in the past, but none like this. I have no doubt we have the strongest ninth grade teaching team in the city. I am proud that we are not only ready for year one, but have also made all major decisions and have concrete plans for each year until we reach our full capacity in the 2015-16 school year. Our curricular and assessment structures, where I have done the most work, are set. Ninth grade courses are designed to help students take the first step towards the graduation Capstone Projects student will complete in their senior year. My greatest hope is that we have great plans we think we do. My biggest fear is that we won’t find the right balance between evolving as the school changes and staying true to our mission and vision.
I’m only teaching two courses this semester: a section of Looking for an Argument, a brilliant government/current events class we’re stealing from Urban Academy, and Build Your Own Civilization, an integrated history and English class that combines the study of ancient civilizations with post-apocalyptic literature where teenagers, for better and worse, create new civilizations. I am hopeful that I can bring every lesson I’ve learned teaching the past nine years to these courses, so that I am just as successful as I’ve been the past two years. I am fearful that I will not adjust quickly enough to teaching 9th graders for the first time since ’04-’05.
In addition, I’m excited and ready to return to holding formal teacher-leader roles in my school. As “Assessment and Organization Guru,” I’m coordinating the school’s assessment structures and ensuring our program matches our big picture curricular goals under the title. I’m also coordinating our January Term, our relationship with the Coalition of Essential Schools and New York’s Consortium for Performance Assessment, mentoring a second year teacher, serving as Tech Guy (for one year only) and, if elected, our Union Chapter Leader. I will serve on our Vision & Strategic Planning Committee and co-chair our Progress Monitoring team. My hope is that the I’ve learned much from many around me and previous mistakes to effectively fill these positions. My fear is that with so much to do (and everyone in the new school has this much to do), I will do too much myself and not allow others to grow and develop as teacher leaders.
Other Education Stuff
The past couple years I have done much out of school as a teacher-leader, and have been able to make things like writing, running professional development, working on Union committees, co-founding the NYC Social Studies Critical Friends Group, and serving on a reader advisory board for Gotham Schools, a priority. All these things will have to go on the back burner for now. I hope I can still prioritize some of these things, especially my CFG and on the DOE/UFT task force to create new assessments for teacher evaluation, while maintaining at least casual relationships with the rest. My fear is that I will have to give much of it up with the added commitments to my new school.
Last but not least, I am excited and hopeful for how much I will have to write this year. I hope it will help bring more people into our excitement at Harvest, and provide lessons and examples for others to take. I am fearful I won’t have much time to do it, and if I do, that I won’t be able to find the proper balance between the honest reflection and critique I have been able to do in the past with the responsibilities I have for protecting and developing Harvest’s public image.
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