The Young and the Restless

This is kind of in response to JJ’s recent post, but that is merely a fortuitous stroke of timing since I’ve been percolating on these thoughts since yesterday before I had read what she’d written.

The staff at my new school are incredibly young.  (The school itself is incredibly young; we will be graduating our first class this year!)  Whether that is a function of being a charter is probably irrefutable, the specific causation less so.  Are younger teachers attracted to this school because we are less entrenched in old ways, or simply because we cannot get jobs in larger, more historic districts?  It’s probably equal parts of both on a collective level, and for myself, I’d be lying if I said I was here solely because I resonate with the philosophy of the school.  (Otherwise my heart wouldn’t have skipped a beat when Bexley called hours after I’d accepted this job, and I wouldn’t have thought, If they ask me to come in for an interview, I will throw my phone out the window.)

Of course, it is a fallacy to assume that all new teachers are mavericks and “invigorating and challenging to the status quo,” to quote JJ.  In fact, I think there has developed a status quo to challenging the status quo, if that makes sense.  Everyone is all about “engagement” and “inquiry” and “nontraditional” learning, and like all buzzwords, these have lost or at least muddied in their meaning.  But for all the sound and fury, I wonder if it isn’t the same old wolf in different sheepskin.  Truly radical teaching, the kind that empowers students instead of merely “engaging” them, that takes “inquiry” to the level of critical analysis and action, remains rare.  I make no claims to having attained that, but it bothers me that mainstream education remains, by and large, a decorated and dilute pablum of the old rote method.

We had a conversation during staff meeting yesterday about what it means to develop an academic identity, which emerged from our discussion of this year’s writing initiative.  It awakened the same unease I felt last year about “fixing” at-risk children to fit into the very society that marginalizes them in the first place.  It is absolutely important to help them develop those survival skills, but I think that is hard to do authentically from the position of privilege that most teachers occupy whether they realize it or not.  Perhaps the truly radical teacher must be willing to step into the students’ world, which is what I try to do, and the trajectory I advocated for the writing initiative, but I think I might be a lone wolf on that one.  Even young “enlightened” teachers (including myself) have to be careful to avoid bearing a modern-day white [wo]man’s burden, and I wonder if the key to that is humility, and that is almost impossible to gain except through long experience.

Which takes me back to the topic of JJ’s post.  I really hope I was respectful of the veteran teachers at my previous school, because I had some trouble with that during my field experiences.  Once I had my own classroom, though, I realized very quickly that I had bitten off significantly more than I could chew, and it was the overt and tacit support of my colleagues that helped me finish the year with even a shred of sanity left.  I suppose I am still a bit traumatized from it all, because when we did a staff interview of a recommended candidate today, it was everything I could do not to yell, “RUN AWAY!!!  RUN AWAY!!!”  I know I’ve only been doing this for a year, but I found myself skeptical and even a bit cynical of this fresh-faced new teacher’s approach to lesson planning and classroom management.  While we were debriefing, however, one of the more experienced teachers pointed out that everyone is going to get a reality check sooner or later, and if that is our biggest concern for this candidate, then we need have no qualms about hiring her.  And that was a good reminder for me, that despite it all, I survived my first year, and more importantly, I learned.

I had a quote posted in my room last year that I would’ve done well to remember better myself.

“How do [birds] learn [to fly]?  They fall, and by falling, they’re given wings.” -Rumi

Kiddos arrive first thing on Tuesday.  Here’s to a year of flying a little farther than before and falling a little less hard.


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