It’s been some time since my last post, not so much because I didn’t have ideas bouncing around in my head as I didn’t feel particularly qualified to be writing about teaching lately and the words just wouldn’t come. There’s been a few bumps in the road of late that left me both humbled and questioning. For multiple reasons, I felt like I was spinning my wheels without getting any traction with my teaching and my other roles at school. Spring Break thus came at the perfect time. Having this week off to simply read and think and have some genuine non-work-related fun seems to have worked. The words are coming a bit easier now.
On Tuesday, I drove over to the new school at which I will begin working in August. I met with the veteran teacher that I will be…well, not replacing. One teacher can’t replace another. Let’s say instead the veteran teacher I will be taking over for as she enjoys a much-deserved retirement after over 40 years in the classroom. We spoke for approximately 45 minutes about her career, her methods, and the school culture. Anyone who can contemplate taking over for someone who has had success as a teacher for 4 decades without nerves setting in is not human in my opinion. I left that meeting feeling both excited and a little anxious.
I’ve spent some time since that meeting looking at some of the resources she gave me, and this, perhaps more than anything, has assuaged some of the anxiety. She currently uses a different textbook* than I have used in the past, and as much as I have liked using Brinkley’s American History, I am actually really excited to try something different. Sometimes we get into a “successful rut.” By this, I mean we figure out what works for us and our students, and we keep using it again and again. We are fearful of trying something new and rocking the boat, of perhaps not having as much success. I would say in the last two years this has happened to me. I found what works, and I’ve stuck to it. I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater, by any means, but I am suggesting we ask ourselves, “What if?” What if I changed this or that? Would the students and I as a teacher be even more successful? Would I enjoy my work even more? Would I reach even more students? When I focus on the “what ifs,” I am less inclined to want to stay in the rut, even a successful one.
Part of easing the anxiety of starting a new job involves accepting that you won’t teach or interact with students and faculty in the same way as your predecessor. That’s okay. It’s not necessarily better or worse; it’s just different. For example, the veteran teacher explained that more students have signed up to take AP U.S. history next year than in previous years, and she ruminated that this might be because they hoped/thought/assumed I would be easier than she. Since I don’t have firsthand experience of her classroom practices, I can’t really speculate about this. By “easier,” does she mean less homework, less reading, easier assessments? I don’t know. Some students may find that I am “easier,” while others may disagree. What is easy for one group of students may not be so for another. I have this discussion with my own students all the time. If we are talking simply about the volume of work, then I suppose I may in fact be a bit easier, since I don’t assign much in the way of “busy work” and I think I give my AP students a lot of freedom in the way they take notes, study, etc. All that I can say for sure is that I will be a different teacher than she, and that’s fine.
As I was thinking through all this, I came across this video which seemed to support my thought process. In the video, Silver explains how as an administrator he had to learn that there was no single method to great teaching. He at first wanted all his teachers to be like him, or like what he deemed a successful teacher to look like. He realized, through a painful process, that he was wrong. Great teachers are not great because they all teach the same way; great teachers are great because they know and understand their own style and how it works best in any given school culture. Thus, in a single school, you can have a wide variety of teaching styles in evidence, all mission-aligned and appropriate to a given school culture. Great teachers then make great schools.
Enjoy the video!
*In my next post, I will be exploring issues related to textbooks – writing one’s own vs. adopting that of a publisher, the pros and cons, etc.