May 6th, 2016
I’m a teacher.
The classroom is my second home.
For 16 years, my whole adult life, I’ve gone to work each day in a school. I’ve spent my time reading and writing with teenagers. I’ve learned and grown and innovated and changed. I’ve been frustrated and underappreciated and questioned. I’ve chaperoned field trips, helped design new curriculum, felt the weight of standardized testing, celebrated huge successes of so many deserving students. I’ve hoarded student work in my desk drawers, covered bulletin boards with notes from and photos of students I’ll never forget, filled file folders with sacred stories and thoughtful thank-yous, all talismans of what can happen inside a creative classroom.
I’ve always been sure of one thing: I’m a teacher.
Next year, though, I’m not sure what I’ll call myself. I’m leaving my classroom teaching job and embarking on a new challenge, a new adventure. Instead of leading my own students through projects and papers, research and content creation, I’ll be helping other teachers innovate and do the same for their students. I know so many teachers who want to innovate, who want to push their students to think and create and collaborate but simply don’t have the time or support to do it. I am honored to now be entrusted with the task of helping them navigate that sometimes scary new path.
But, I wonder, am I still a teacher if I don’t have my own students listed on a roster? If I am instead a coach for other teachers? If I don’t grade papers and sit in faculty meetings and eat a hurried lunch with hilarious colleagues?
I’m not sure if all professions feel the connection between job title and sense of self as teachers do. Deciding to leave the comfort of my classroom has been a heart-wrenching decisions. It has been one where I’ve shed so many tears as I think of who I will become without the title of teacher, without the 150 or more students who keep me wanting to walk into the school building each day, without the lesson plans and student work and constant stream of questions that push me to be a better teacher, a better person.
But I’ve decided to leap. To take a chance outside these walls. To see if the leadership capacity I’ve built in the last few years can perhaps have an even bigger impact than what I have now.
Thus for now, this is my last teacher appreciation week where I know I can call myself a teacher.
So this week, I’m appreciating teaching. I’m appreciating 16 years of learning from students who have challenged me just as much as I’ve challenged them. Students who have pushed me to see the world from a new point of view. Students who have allowed me into their stories and given me the honor of reading their most sacred words. Students who have made school seem like a second home.
I’m appreciating 16 years of the very best colleagues who always put students first. Colleagues who innovate and challenge practices that might be mandated, but might not be right. Colleagues who show compassion to students and to each other, lifting the community during hard times. Colleagues who dance and sing and share and write and laugh and who I know are some of the very best teachers I’ll ever work with.
I’m trying hard to appreciate change. To see that, in the end, I still will be a teacher. My colleagues have assured me that I will be. I may not have my own classroom or my own students, but I’ll be in schools, pushing for innovation and collaboration, public projects and student-designed learning. I will still hold students at the fore of everything I do.
I know well that a school is made up of the whole community – that each and every working part of the school is essential to a student’s education. I’m going to be a part of that community still, just in a different way.
But being a teacher? I’m know that is what I’ll always value most. And I’m pretty sure that’s who I’ll always be.