The 2009-10 school year was quite challenging, so I am glad to have it behind me. But as I look ahead to this year, I’m finding myself excited and nervous in equal amounts around the three parts of my professional life:
The last time I taught Ancient Global History was during the first George W. Bush administration, and I was living south of the Mason-Dixon line. This year, as my school is in the third year of bringing in a new social studies scope and sequence, my 11th-grade class will be Global History Through 1900. I never thought I would be excited to teach this content again, but I’m actually as excited for this class as I was my first year teaching American history.
Planning this course gives me two firsts: It’s both the first time I’m planning a course where I am really confident that I know what I am doing and the first time I’ve had a planning team to work with me. Both of these factors give me confidence that this will be the best course I’ve ever taught. We have a strong curriculum and some great projects planned, and I feel like I have mastered the side of the course that focuses on preparing students to take the Regents exam.
With that said, this is also the first time I’ve taught a new course with a team, and I have a teaching partner in one of my three sections. I’m nervous about relying on others and about the compromises that will be necessary to make my partnership a success.
I have spent the last three years as a grade team and advisory team leader, heading up small groups of teachers. This year I will take on the role of social studies department chair, decreasing my teaching load so I can observe and coach my colleagues. While becoming a department chair is a lateral move within my school’s organization, it is a substantial change. This is the first time my leadership will really focus on how we teach, which is what is the most important part of schools for me. I’m really excited to be a part of these conversations, especially with our two new social studies teachers as I help them transition to Bronx Lab.
However, while the chair at my school is supposed to be more of a facilitator, I can already feel a real difference in how other teachers are looking to me. In my head I’m still a pretty young teacher who still needs to learn and make mistakes, but I’ve already seen that more and more staff are looking to me for answers and solutions. Just as being a teacher requires one to be on at all points in the classroom, I’m realizing that I’m going to have to be on at all points when I’m with other adults as well. Our school has always had significant staff turnover, but in the last two years that has included five of the top six leaders in the school, including both our founding principal and an assistant principal. Somehow, I am seventh on the school seniority list. Those of us who have been second- or even third-string leadership in my school are all going to need to step up our games and take on new roles, while ensuring that we are developing new leaders alongside us. I am feeling more pressure as a leader than I have ever felt before.
One of the best parts of my school is its advisory system. Every teacher takes on a group of students as ninth-graders that he or she stays with through the students’ senior year. As an advisor, one is a teacher, guidance counselor, sometimes social worker, and occasional stand-in parent to students. Having just watched my first group of advisees graduate, I can see that being an advisor was both the most rewarding and challenging part of my past four years. This year, I’ll be adopting another group of seniors whose advisor left the school.
While I taught many of them and know all of them, I’m apprehensive about stepping into a well-established group dynamic. I know I won’t be able to develop the same relationships in one year with this group as I did in my four with my previous group, but I really hope that I will still be able to support all of them in reaching the finish line in June.