I can’t even get my tomatoes to line up straight…
How am I going to be ready for September 7, 2017? Every new school year gets me nervous. I always worry that the upcoming year will be the year my luck runs out. Because, seriously, I have been a lucky teacher. But what if this year I just suck? What if everyone (students, colleagues, parents, administrators) acknowledge that I don’t know what the hell I am doing? This fear both paralyzes and motivates. Simultaneous paralyzing motivation defines back to school jitters. To reduce my anxiety, I need a game plan, a mission, goals.
Besides being my niece’s 27th birthday, September 7, 2017, is the day that my tenth year of teaching begins. If you have followed my writing (thank you my three faithful followers), you might be scratching your heads as to the number ten. I am constantly going on about how I have been teaching for 23 years. I am a veteran teacher. Blah, blah, blah. What does professing my experience really matter to anyone else? It doesn’t offer any insight into my state of mind, nor does it enlighten anyone as to my teaching philosophy.
No, from now on, instead of stating how long I have been teaching, I am going to count down to retirement. Not because I want to retire. Not because I look forward to stress-free Sundays and stress-free months of August (the Sunday of the summer month). No, I am going to count down to retirement to remind myself that time is short and I better do a great job of “seeing” my students, imparting some words of wisdom, and teaching students significant historical lessons. I am a short timer and I need to be my best self.
Although my life and my garden vegetables are often unruly, I am going to attempt to outline my goals for my last ten years. Even though it might take all of the time I have left to achieve my goals, the following is my ten-year to-do list:
1.To “learn” my students.
I will have approximately 1,200 students enter room 811 in the next ten years. I want to help them be successful and overcome any challenges they face. Socrates said: “Know thyself.” I must know my students. I must see them, listen to them and meet them where they are. In the same manner that I need to accept my daughters for who they are, I must greet my students with kindness and respect. I need to value their experiences.
2. To teach and embrace different classes.
One of the reasons that I changed districts, was to have the opportunity to teach different classes. If I had stayed at my first teaching position, I most likely would have taught eighth grade United States History for thirty-four years. After only eight years, it already felt stale. At my current district, I have been fortunate to teach many topics, usually in elective classes. In my last ten years of teaching, I will embrace opportunities to teach diverse students and take on the challenge of teaching new classes. I will not allow myself stagnation and comfort.
3. To be more of a student myself.
I have been fortunate to teach education courses at the college level. However, the commitment to teaching one night a week has left no time for me to pursue taking courses. Unfortunately, enrollment in the college education programs has decreased significantly, leaving me unemployed as an adjunct. If that trend continues, I will look for courses that engage me as a learner.
4. To continue to collaborate, often.
I work with amazing, creative people. Through past collaboration, I have been allowed a window into their classrooms. Although I will continue to reach out to my allies, I will also attempt to bravely connect with colleagues that I have yet to connect. I need to trust to collaborate, but I trust a teacher more once we have worked together successfully. It is a sort of Catch-22. I will look for avenues of connection with the professionals in my district. I will remind myself that my students always benefit from my efforts at co-teaching.
5. To open my mind to new things.
I cannot predict all of the new things that will enter my classroom. I am sure technology will change. I am confident that students’ needs and demographics will shift. I can assure myself that district administration will push new initiatives. Regardless, I must open my mind and challenge myself to examine the benefits of such changes.
6. To see the other side of the other side of the teacher’s desk (ie. administration).
I would not make an effective administrator. I can inspire adolescents, but I am often befuddled by adults. Students are simply more honest and raw. Adult relationships take more time to establish rapport and trust. However, I want to understand administrators’ roles, challenges, and victories. A dear friend of mine declared how much she enjoyed interning as an administrator this summer. Her insight into the world of administration will inform her teaching. I seek to be better educated.
7. To connect with families.
In the past, I have connected with families formally through email, monthly letters, and at the obligatory open house night (which I hate). I have avoided difficult conversations, but I have gained great insight from the hour long phone calls. I need to be better. Even though I teach high school, parents of students at that level deserve (and probably crave) communication. I pledge to communicate more meaningfully with the parents of my students.
8. To attend more school events.
I am a mom of two competitive swimmers, with busy evening schedules. I try (and fail) to juggle motherhood and teacher-hood (it is my new word). Every time a doe-eyed student asks me if I will attend their game and wear their jersey to school, I cringe. I want to attend their games. I want to know my students outside of the classroom. I am honored to be asked. I am also conflicted. After 3:30 pm, any teaching obligations collide with my parental duties. Last school year I was able to attend three students’ special games. My goal is to increase that frequency, but also to allow myself a balance. My own children deserve my time as well.
9. To teach fiercely about historical connections to current events.
The 2016–2017 school year knocked me out. I was unprepared for how the frequency and intensity of current events would impact my teaching of Global History. By the end of the 2016–2017 school year, however, I was proud of the journey traveled with my students. We had some very difficult discussions on race, gender, equity, religion, and freedoms. I did not cover all of my content. When the New York State Global Regents Exam was passed out on June 15, 2017, I held my breath, hoping that the content I omitted was forgotten on the assessment — it was. I got lucky, again. In my last ten years, I will continue to draw connections to current events. It is my responsibility to give my students a safe place to explore opposing views and more importantly, to connect historic legacies to modern topics.
10. To ditch the stress of the New York State Regents and the AP Exam.
I am going to give myself permission to acknowledge that after a certain point in the school year, I have given all that I can give. I have stayed late to run review sessions, I have made review videos, and I have tutored individual students. “I have done all I can.” That phrase must be my new motto in the Spring. The tests are only snapshots of what my students have learned. The teacher evaluation process is ridiculous. The value-added model is outdated. The test and punish structure needs to end. Entering summer as an empty vessel is not productive. Raising my blood pressure and cortisol levels is not healthy. This will be my most difficult challenge because it is really an internal fight. This struggle returns me to the beginning of this post — my fear of being an incompetent teacher. I fear my own failure because it never feels like mine alone. I always fear that I did not reach a student when they needed a teacher most. I will no longer believe the lie that it is all my responsibility.
2017–2018 begins my tenth year of teaching. Wish me luck.