Well, partly because I have struggled with looking for a way to clearly articulate the joys, the frustrations, and the transformations that occur when becoming a teacher of the year. Because that’s what happens—you don’t walk into the position, you become it, you grow into it, and it takes a year. But mainly, I haven’t written because I’m back in the classroom. The craziness of travel, presentations, speeches, and opportunity is winding down, and I am finding myself focused on what is in my plan book. And my plan book looks entirely different than it did one year ago.
In fact, my entire professional landscape looks different than it did one year ago. I’m not the same teacher; my head is not in the same game. While this made teaching a little difficult for me during the fall—I felt out of place in my own school, disconnected from the students I spent so much time away from, and restless as I found myself walking into Holderness day after day without interruption—I am now transitioned, feeling strong, and finding my stride again. I have spent long hours talking through muddy ideas with close colleagues and my husband about where my passions lie, what I want to take with me as I leave this year, and what I must leave behind. I have finally been able to articulate my goals and my desires. I have sat in my classroom late into the night looking at blank bulletin boards that I haven’t had the energy to decorate and reading about educational theory. I have collapsed in chairs at the 2:55 bell feeling beaten like a new teacher, and I have cheered at 2:55 feeling like I have conquered the world.
I’m not the same teacher. And who can be after the boundless opportunities of travel I have been granted or the chances to meet engaging, dedicated teachers across the state and nation? Who can remain the same after meeting with state legislators about the damaging legislation we witnessed, sitting on Capitol Hill with our senator, addressing the US Department of Education, the NH Board of Education, and of course, meeting the president? I have been gifted with incredible fortune this year—it has been a life-changing experience for which I will be forever grateful.
Out of the course of this experience, I have come to some conclusions that have taken me by surprise. I have discovered that teachers are their own best resources and that we need to support one another through grass roots professional development. I have realized that the world is not always kind to ambitious women, nor is it always flexible or forgiving of human error. I have learned that teaching is a lifestyle—that you cannot do two jobs at once and be an excellent teacher. I have learned that our classrooms need to be catapulted into the 21st century and that we need to do a better job at teaching on the very ground our students are growing up in. I have seen the importance of relevance in education. I have recognized that not everybody who makes legislative decisions about my career knows a thing about my field—that in fact most legislators are not well-learned in the realities of the classroom at all, which means that teachers across the state and nation must be voices of activism and change. We must take hold of the educational conversation and offer proper guidance. And most importantly, I have discovered that teachers in New Hampshire and across the country are doing remarkable things in their classrooms. Amazing things. Last week I was speaking to a woman from TED2012 and she said, “I just read and watched over 800 teacher applications from around the world, and I can’t believe what kinds of things are happening in their classrooms. I wish my children could have these kinds of people as teachers.” “They do,” I told her. “They do.” Our culture underestimates what takes place in ordinary classrooms—they don’t understand the intricacies of the art that goes into tying together emotion, content, motivation, personality, scheduling, discipline, and creating awe. They don’t realize that all of our children have amazing teachers.
So I return to the classroom with all of this in my back pocket where we are taking on new ideas, transforming what ELA instruction looks like, and redoing the plan book. My students are happy to have me back, but I am happier to be back in the midst of their learning. For a while I wondered about leaving the classroom to work with adults, but I don’t think that could be a fulltime possibility for me. I need to stick closer to the roots—to the energy that drives the branches. I’m keeping that for me.
On the horizon? Possibly a professional development organization driven by teachers. A book proposal. Teaching at conferences. Speaking. A new blog. Who knows—I have many ideas and renewed drive given to me by the consistency of teaching in the classroom every day again. But whatever I do, it will only be done with students by my side.
So in once sense I feel whole again—I’m back in my room, surrounded by the students and books that I love, engaged in conversations about learning, dealing with the intimacy of the written word. Parts of this feel normal. But in another sense I feel like my whole person is pieced together with new parts. My topics remain the same; my approaches not so much. And with this newness come the remarkable feelings every new teacher experiences—elation, excitement, inquiry, curiosity, and a sense of being overwhelmed. It’s not exactly where I anticipated ending up, this feeling of newness, but I'm grateful for it.