I mentioned last week that I have been an educator for over 30 years. That included a first-year, fresh-out-of-college stint as a high school teacher—a role I find myself in again… first-year teacher that is, the fresh has long worn off. I wish I could say that, given those three decades in the field and a second go round as a new teacher, being in the classroom for the first week again was just like riding the proverbial bike. And it was—almost.
There were two aspects of last week that I was singularly unprepared for.
The first was something I knew in the abstract: the importance and value of collegial support. I had read Hargreaves and Fullan’s Professional Capital, which is full of wisdom about the power of collegiality among teachers. Of course, Russ Quaglia and Lisa Lande have contributed to raising awareness of the importance of Teacher Voice first and foremost as a work of collaboration. I have spent many a PD session urging teachers to abandon the autonomy of the old my classroom my students system for a robust and necessary approach that embraces a vision of our school and our students. The Conditions of Belonging and Heroes, after all, apply as much to teachers as to students. All this I knew in the abstract.
I was unprepared for how important this would be to me in the concrete. Veteran teacher after veteran teacher dropped by my classroom to see how I was doing. They talked me through the attendance system, the bell system, the lunch procedures, the copier buttons (where did the mimeograph machines go?). Though I am chair, colleagues in my department asked how it was going. The IT team was relentless in tackling some of the technological challenges in my classroom. The English teacher in the classroom two doors down invited me to ask if I needed anything. A math teacher I worked with on a new school project over the summer went out of his way to seek me out and inquire about the first week. The administrative assistants were solicitous. Even my fellow new teachers and I commiserated about the challenge of learning students names and keeping track of where we were supposed to be when and what period it was! Getting back on the bike, I am grateful to all my new colleagues for trotting alongside as I re-gain my balance.
The second thing I was unprepared for was the pace. Each class blinked by. Each day flew. And the week as a whole? Forget about TGIF—it’s HSIF (Holy Smokes It’s Friday?!).
I had heard teachers talk about being harried by time and that “there’s not enough time.” The “schedule” was a frequent excuse for why this or that couldn’t or didn’t or would never happen. Though I have been in hundreds of schools, those experiences had a way of aggregating into an abstraction in my head. We “have to make time” is something I frequently recall saying. While I hope I was not unsympathetic, it is truer to say I lacked concrete experience of time in a school. Getting back on the bike, the temporal experience of a particular school during this particular week was a rush. As with the condition of Fun & Excitement—maybe because of the experience of Fun & Excitement—I lost track of time.
Just one week back I can say with confidence that I remember how to ride! A little wobbly? Yes! Slightly nervous given the speeds? Yes! But also invigorated, in gear, and in it for the long haul.