Student 1: What were you reading?
Me: It’s a book about teaching. Pose, Wobble, Flow. Mrs. Kroon gave it to me.
Student 1: You know it’s almost summer, right? You’ve got to chill.
Student 2: Leave her alone. At least she’s found her people.
Student 2 was referring to Mrs. Kroon as “my people.” But after finishing Pose, Wobble, Flow, I also consider authors Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen my people—or at least my kind of people. Their book provided respite from the inadequate professional development I have been offered this year.
It’s March – Spring break is on the horizon. Half of the school year is over. You’ve conquered January and February at full throttle. It wasn’t easy! Students had to relearn some skills and procedures. You had to get back into the swing of things yourself! With numerous new projects from field trips to standardized testing preparation.
Now that you’re in a place of feeling prepared, it’s time to shake things up. Yes - new student groupings!
The answer: much-needed empathy.
As coach of the English department in an urban-Philadelphia high school, I spend a lot of time in classrooms but hardly any time teaching. However, when one of our 12th-grade teachers was suddenly hospitalized, I offered to teach her AP Literature class until she returned. I hadn’t formally taught in nearly four years, and the experience reshaped how I view the classroom, my colleagues, and the relationship between teachers and administrators.
Some background first. I strive to be a defender of teachers. While four years of teaching taught me the challenges of this work, coaching has taught me how important it is to equip teachers with the right resources and supports to do their jobs well. I’ve seen teachers go from floundering to thriving in just a few months of coaching. I’ve also worked with teachers who actively resist. Some are hesitant to trust my feedback or our conversations, and occasionally reject the process altogether. When I was in the classroom, I remember frequently questioning my coach, but ultimately embracing their perspective and eagerly trying out their suggestions in my classroom. I saw coaching as a tool to make me a better teacher. Who wouldn’t want that?
My belief and approach is that education provides students a better understanding of their world. It helps them build an informed worldview so they can navigate their journey. I strive to present my students with a multitude of experiences, aiming to arm them with the tools they need for success in work, relationships, and other aspects of life.
However, there are times I wonder, “Is this worth it? Do they care about this topic? Are they even listening?” Yet, time and again my students surprise me with the connections they make and how they apply their learnings to their life in such remarkable ways.
A recent incident this year illustrates my belief and approach.
For many, mid-October is pumpkin spice season; a time when apples are ripe for picking and our favorite television shows are back in full swing.
For first-year teachers, it’s quite different. They just survived a full month of school and suddenly realize things are not going as planned. They question both their commitment and their competence. Their strategies in teaching, once seen as indestructible tools, are now useless. Back to School night means playing the ultimate “fake it till you make it,” telling parents the year’s plans when they are still unclear in the new teacher’s mind.
I was that teacher last year. Those who worked with me in Action Research Group know this well. My in-person check-ins, blog posts, and reflections at that time would make an outsider question whether or not I’d make it to June.
This year, I’m a second year teacher. I have yet to feel the same type of stress, confusion, and disillusionment I did last year. Maybe I’m more prepared, or perhaps I’m wiser. Maybe both. No matter which, I know much of my newfound confidence comes from the power of observation.