I’m here nearing the end of a three-week professional development workshop for secondary school math teachers. I knew that it was going to be an excellent experience for me coming off of my year of teaching, and I was not disappointed.
Over the past three weeks, I have been surrounded by teachers that I trust and respect deeply who have asked questions and pushed me to think and articulate things that up to this point have been just too raw and recent to touch. And today, I got the chance to talk about my experiences over the past year with them. I won’t forget this one hour of sharing and conversation for a long time.
The encouragement I felt was incredible. One part of me felt like the whole thing was too indulgent–why should these people find it admirable for me to teach high school for a year when these same people do it themselves year after year? And yet, another part of me was soaking it all in. It was an emotional experience for me and many others in the room, I think because there was a shared experience and understanding that deeply connected us.
So what was gained from this hour? I realized that the emotional struggles of a being a high school teacher far outweighed the instructional, intellectual, physical, logistical challenges and that this was natural and not unusual. It was helpful to be reminded by other teachers that your reputation has a huge impact at school and that the first year at any school will always be difficult because of students’ uncertainty about you. It was helpful to be told that instructional changes take a long time and are supposed to happen slowly, and that I can’t expect to be good at teaching in a new setting in one year. It was helpful to be told that the fruits of a high school teacher are rarely observed by that teacher. It was helpful to be told that not being able to get off to a good start with your students on day 1 (let alone week 4) is very detrimental to classroom climate.
A colleague asked me, what lessons did I learn that will affect the way I lead professional development for teachers? I’m still trying to think beyond the obvious answer (that I now have much more empathy for and understanding of the work that teachers do). Stay tuned.