I drank the Kool-Aid. If you don’t know what I’m referring to it’s an inside joke in corps members. Once you’ve experienced the organization, become a part of the movement and struggled day in and day out to make a difference in your students lives you are changed forever. You are committed to the idea that one day all children will receive an excellent education for the rest of your life. You are brainwashed, drugged, and going to do something to effect change.
The kool-aid is a good thing.
I just returned from a teaching conference of beginning teachers of independent schools. We went to a cabin in the woods and played ice-breakers and talked about our schools and our feelings. There were no action plans. There was no goal setting. We sat in large circles and discussed the challenges and frustrations of teaching. We got free time to go on walks and reflect and chat and make friends. In some ways it was exactly what the stressed first and second year teachers might have needed. Instead of continuing to work on the measurable, analytical science of teaching we were cultivating our souls and our identities and becoming whole again so we could be better at connecting to our students. Private education is much more focused on the whole child than public schools. Test scores are one piece of that but only one. Teaching is more of an emotional art form. It’s about relationships more than results.
I thought back to Professional Saturdays. Corp members don’t get to skip school for three days to do professional development. They just work Saturdays. We don’t have long lunches and emotional reflective sessions. We emerge with research and strategies and hopefully some lesson plans. Our conversations are quick and analytical and heated and detailed. Before I left Teach for America I’d never really considered teaching as an art. I considered it as applying a set of research based strategies, charisma and a whole lot of hard work. I knew that reflection was important but my reflection was much more focused on strategy than my emotions.
We were talking in a big group discussion and someone said “I’d recommend that first year teachers start in public schools because they are given more clear expectations o how to deal with behavior and it would be easier.” I had to jump in. I had to share about the time I was instructed “if you see a kid with a gun don’t wait for the police, just tackle the m*********.”
Someone else asked “If you had to advise a friend about entering either a struggling public school or a private school what would you tell them.”
I responded that if they were very interested in teaching their subject and talking about their subject a private school is a great place to be given flexibility with curriculum. If you want to be a part of a mission and to know that your efforts mean the difference between a student graduating or not instead of being accepted to Harvard as opposed to just Cornell then choose public. If you want to be given more responsibility than you can imagine because no one else has the energy to write the school improvement plan choose public.”
I miss being a part of the mission. I was truly inspired two and a half years ago cheering in the auditorium at the end of institute. I want to go back. But not to teaching.
I’ve decided recently that while I am outraged that the education that my private student receive is so drastically different than those my public school students received that my end destination is not the classroom.
I love solving problems. I love writing. My happiest moments were working as part of the school improvement team to brainstorm solutions to our problems. I loved writing about my experiences. I love comparing and contrasting public to private education and opening the world to my spoon-fed students who while absolutely wonderful have no idea how good they’ve got it. I loved working with peers to design great curriculum. I loved working with corps members because they were bright and dedicated and caring. I love working with the staff at my new school for all of the same reasons. I love lesson planning and finding out new things about math and doing research. Read over my list again. Did any of those things take place in the classroom?
My epiphany for the day. I absolutely care about kids. However, my greatest strengths are working for them behind the scenes with adults. I’m great at analytical skills. I’m great at writing. My ability to talk to a student about their behavior or late homework is not my strongest suit. I can do it. My students have learned and done well and respected me. But it’s not what I’m best at.
So I’m applying for staff. I need to go back to TFA. I miss it. But this time I want to write, to research to analyze to problem solve to ensure that one day all children receive an excellent education.
Or maybe, if I don’t go back to staff, I need to write a book about all of this. People need to know. All of you that blog here have stories that you don’t have the time to edit, to put together. The world needs to see them. Your stories matter.