Skip to main content

What I Didn't Learn

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.

Comments

Jessica said…
Well... if the school environment hadn't have been better, then you'd be sad that it was still so rough, right? But it WAS better, so you wish you could participate... it sounds to me like you're recovering nicely from your massive burnout.

Just imagine it was maybe 2008 and the school was doing well: you'd have been happy about it but still unable to even think of engaging, or imagining what that would be like.

So, oddly, I think that your wistfulness is a good sign. :) (whatever your future may hold).
Bronwyn said…
You make excellent points!!

Popular posts from this blog

Why Teachers are Afraid to Go Back

  Opening schools to in-person learning is an extremely emotionally charged topic right now for parents and teachers both, and for good reason. With almost half a million Americans dead of COVID and worries about mental health crises from isolation very serious, there seem to be no good answers. In fact, one of my students recently told me that “there are no good options. There are only less worse options.” If the science says it’s safe and the district has a plan, which where I live has been approved by our very conservative Alameda County Public Health Department, then why aren’t all teachers excited about going back?  As a former classroom teacher, I want to explain this. Hint: It’s not about the science. The first thing you learn as a teacher is that you won’t make enough money. We joke about needing a rich spouse or family money but it’s not actually funny, because it’s so often true, especially for beginning teachers. The reason I am no longer in the classroom is becaus

COVID in prison

 I have been a bit MIA because I broke my ankle on Thanksgiving (hiked back out two miles on a broken ankle!) and had surgery. So I forgot to worry that I hadn't heard from Jorge, my former student and co-author in prison, in a while. Turns out that I was right to worry, as he contracted COVID although seems to have made a full recovery. I got a letter from him today that he said I could share parts of. I'd like to highlight the very last paragraph. This young man was suffering from COVID, totally cut off from all his loved ones, scared and in prison, and he remembered to ask after my family and worry if we are feeling lonely. He is a remarkable person. ------------- Sorry for the late reply, there's been so much that's been going on since I got to this prison.... As you know, before quarantining when I got to this place for two weeks, I did it at SATF for two weeks also. So in total I quarantined for a month and my tests came back negative. After the two weeks here I g