Last week, I went to visit the school I used to work at, where my Little Sister attends school. They had just finished standardized testing, and the very wise and probably exhausted teachers at that grade level were giving their students and themselves a bit of a break by having some theme days. One teacher had a Hawaii luau theme. That class called the classroom their hotel, wore leis and sunglasses, and read on beach chairs and towels. (The teacher also told them there was no fighting in Hawaii and that seemed to work!). Another teacher had a camp theme with baseball caps, fake campfires, flashlights, and other fantastic props. The kids seemed so happy and relaxed to have a day out of the ordinary and I honestly wished I had thought of it.
I was talking to a couple of the teachers I knew from when I was there (I left 5 years ago next month). We were talking about the differences between now and then. The biggest difference is that the school is much, much calmer. There are a number of differences. I was there almost eight years (I started mid-year the first year) and we had 8 principals, plus one who had left the month before I came. I think we had 5 superintendents/state administrators. Our normal turnover for teachers each year was over 50%, with some teachers leaving after only a week. Counselors and support staff changed frequently, when we had them. Even the custodians and lunch servers didn't remain the same for long, although they usually outlasted the teachers. By the time I was 31, I was the teacher who had been at the school the longest.
I was proud of my longevity. I thought of myself as a survivor and someone who had stuck around for the kids when other people had let difficulties drive them away. At the time, I didn't realize how detrimental this setup was to my own personal growth as a teacher. I knew that the stress was making me sick, but I didn't realize that I didn't really know how to be a good teacher. I had missed all the collaboration; all the learning from more experienced professionals; and all the learning, fun, and goals that can be accomplished by working with other talented people. There were, of course, talented teachers, but they either left quickly or only concentrated on their own students (usually both) because, like me, that was the way they would survive.
Now it makes me sad. I wouldn't trade the time I had with my students for anything but I really do wish I had had the chance to work with people. I left the school feeling relieved and glad that it seemed to be in better shape and jealous that I hadn't been around to be a part of it and that I wasn't learning from and working with the people who are there now.