It all started on January 8th, 2014. Nine years and six months ago I went back to school to get my degree. Four years later in 2018, I got my first job as teacher. I've been working in the same district all this time and I'm starting my sixth year as a teacher. In June of 2018, I asked myself, "Am I Ready?". As a part of that post I went through the various elements of "being ready" and how, as much as I could be, I was ready for the challenge ahead. There's been a lot of adventures since those early days of worry and imposter syndrome. Yet, I persevered.
I'm starting my fourth year at our alternative education school in our district. I've been thinking about what to write about as it was tradition in the past to write a launching post about what I felt about the year and what word(s) I was going to choose for the year. I was doom scrolling through twitter earlier today and ran smack up against this tweet from Sage.
I sat in this for most of today. In fairness I work in a smaller school than Sage does. We run anywhere from 35 students to 48. I know all of my students. However, this year his words have more potency than they might have in previous years. We graduated 11 students at the end of the school year. Together with some students dropping out and other factors we're probably going to be picking up new students and growing this year. That means new faces with new stories and new needs. It means that while I do need to have my classroom in order and my curriculum complete...I need to be ready to think about approaching our various texts, projects and assignments differently.
Our students are also coming back to us after a summer off, and they've slept since the last day of school where we had our systems in place and our classwork running smoothly. We have to be ready to accept them back while also working to get everyone (including ourselves) back into the swing of things. Jasmine Lane (MsJasmineLane on Twitter) has talked repeatedly about working in her school with logical routines, strong standards, high expectations, and focused processes together with teaching staff to admin and back again. Her discussions (she teaches in the UK) around the culture of having a team of people who are designated as interventionists to address student behavior, performance, and more are always framed around it working because the culture of the building from the office to the classroom is taken seriously by everyone who has a piece of the puzzle as a stakeholder. To put it more simply - everyone who works in the building is on the ball because it's built in and baked in - it's not a want to, it's a have to thing.
As we come into this new school year, that's our renewed challenge in our building this year. To wit, I will never say that I know it all, or that I've got it figured out. Part of teaching is understanding that we have to be open to learning something new. It might mean we have to modify a lesson, policy, or procedure...and that's OK. Learning is necessary in this career. As we've spent some time building our team together we're laying the groundwork for how we teach, relate, communicate, and build relationships with the students. We're going to be as ready as we can be for students on day 1. As we go through those first days we're going to get to know those students we haven't seen for three months. We're also going to get to know new students who are walking into our classrooms for the first time. We're going to be doing what Sage talked about above - getting to know them so we can start doing the work with them.
I should qualify a bit here - working in an alternative education campus is a different experience than a standard high school setting. Our students have been through things, seen things, heard things, and have had things done to them - both from education and life. Our work begins at the relational level - how do we meet them where they are and build a bridge to them to get them onboard with our mission in our building. Sometimes that first few days is working through the summer trauma, or the baggage they had to carry. It may sound odd to larger buildings or schools in different areas - but sometimes the academic work comes second to building trust with a student through listening and engaging with them where they are. It may sound like a platitude, but in alternative education, it's our jam. It's our wheelhouse. It's our business. It's what we do. Our job isn't just to teach. It's about as full service as you can imagine. We work one on one with every kid that comes through our doors from the first bell of the morning to the last bell of the afternoon.
I'd like to think the things we do in our building are applicable to bigger schools and other places. We have a dedicated team who are focused on interventions with students who are having academic, emotional, social, or psychological struggles. They meet once a week with data we as teachers provide and we meet with them once a week to get their feedback while also making plans with them on how we can help support the interventions. I know Jasmine has spoken (on Twitter) at length about how important that comparable team in her school is to giving her the ability to focus on her teaching, materials and classroom. It's been a huge benefit for us having a team that works together with us to help the students accomplish their goals and succeed in their various challenges.
I'm excited for what this year holds for us in our building and for our district. I'm hopeful for teachers across the country and the globe. That this year we would find accomplishment, success, and those joyful moments that make teaching the place we all want it to be. There will be wins, there will be losses. Every day is a new game with a new number of periods.
We're like Bilbo again, and we're going on an adventure.
As Captain Jack Sparrow says...bring me that horizon.