Hearing No and Saying Yes

The school year is coming to a close and along with it the feelings of exhaustion, elation, relief, and bittersweet sadness that usually accompany these sorts of transitions for me.

This year the whirlwind of the last days of school has been even stronger for me. I’m getting married the day after school ends. Crazy timing, many would suggest, but the benefit has been that my anxiety hasn’t had time to pool around any one detail or concern for very long.

The joy of this season has been accompanied by the sadness of hearing that I won’t be teaching my high school blended learning class again next year. It’s been one of the great joys and challenges of my teaching experience for the past four years. I love the way that the class has given students an opportunity to explore their passions and “rehabilitated” some previously self-described history haters. Because of an increase in the number of blended learning classes offered next year, only enough students for one section enrolled in the history course. The upper school history department didn’t have enough classes for a full load for all upper school teachers, so, because I am primarily a middle school teacher already with a full load, the blended learning class will be taught by an upper school teacher who taught the second section of the course this year.

It’s a decision that makes total sense financially for the school and the other teacher brings a wealth of ideas and knowledge to the course. I look forward to doing whatever I can to support him. I am sad, however, that I won’t make the trek across campus twice a week to meet with a group of thoughtful, inquisitive, sometimes challenging high school students.

Hearing no to one thing always means the opportunity and ability to say yes to something else. While I don’t know for certain, where those yeses will come, I look forward to seeing what the new (school) year holds. My 7th grade colleague and I are going to be adding a mini-unit on Ancient Rome to our World History course, and I’m planning to do some re-shaping of the Supreme Court simulation for my 8th grade US History class. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to eating awesome Mexican food and gluten-free cheesecake at my wedding and reading, hiking, and watching movies with my (soon-to-be) husband this summer.

Why Change When We’re Doing All Right?

It’s a fair question. We’re busy people. Busy teachers, busy administrators, busy staff. Change takes time and effort. Change can be scary and change can result in failure.

But if we don’t change, if we don’t ask ourselves what we could be doing better, we start to stagnate. Things around us are moving. And if we let the busyness consume us, we may turn around and find, perhaps years later, that things weren’t as all right as we thought they were. If we don’t change, we avoid risk-taking and in the process lose out on an opportunity to model risk-taking for our students.

I think the question of “Why change?” can be an especially tricky one for many independent schools. Because of our resources and traditions, it can be easy to tell ourselves that change is unneeded or perhaps even dangerous. The recession and a decline in enrollment pushed some schools to consider change, but the best time to think about change is when it’s a choice, not a necessity.

In the Discussing Change in the Well-Functioning School session at EduCon this morning, there was great discussion about how to lead conversations about change in places where things are basically alright. Sometimes that change is imposed from an outside entity and sometimes a leader or group is looking for a way to nudge change from within. Participants shared a host of questions, suggestions, and thoughts related to the opportunities and challenges talking about change can bring. 

Talking and thinking about change, on a personal or school-wide level, starts with reflection- What are the strengths of our school community? In what ways do I feel most alive as a teacher? In what areas does our school least reflect its mission statement? What are the unspoken assumptions we make that may or may not be true? In ways do I stand in the way of my students learning?

What Will Follow Me

“Where would any of us be without teachers- without people who had passion for their art or their science or their craft and they loved it right in front of us?” –Mr. Rogers

Next year will bring  a new set of preps for me. I’ll be teaching 7th and 8th grade (European and American) history. Moving to a new grade level team and a new set of classes was a tough choice. On one level is not that big of a change- same school, same general area (humanities), and same division- but this will be my fourth year teaching here and not one of those years has had the same set of preps.

I wrestled for the past three years with not loving the content I was primarily responsible for teaching. I think this in some ways was a useful experience. When you love the content that you’re teaching, there’s the danger of losing your capacity for empathetic imagination and thinking that all your students find [fill in the blank] as thrilling as you do. There were aspects of what I was teaching that I truly enjoyed, but I never felt so in love with it that I couldn’t understand why a kid might have difficulty caring about it. I think this fact also drove me to work harder and ask for help more often. Feeling totally at a loss for how to teach some aspects of the English curriculum drove me to the English Companion Ning, which has been an incredible resource for me over the past three years.

But when the opportunity came up to teach something I love, I decided to take it.

It’s tempting to think that a change of scenery will mean that everything that’s hard about teaching will disappear. If I can just find that magical set of preps or position, I will suddenly become a wunder-teacher who can pound out trimester narrative reports in two hours and never take any longer than overnight to grade papers. The anxiety that I feel when trying to teach writing won’t crop up in other places, and every project will be executed perfectly.

But I’m sure these things will follow me in some form or another, so I’ll keep chipping away at them. What’ll will also be coming along, though, is the love of history and story that drove me as a child to sneak into the bathroom and read biographies by the night light.

How you decide when it’s time to make a change? What has followed you through the changes?