This year has posed some very unique challenges. I've assumed a new leadership role in my school- effectively a department head, but one that is more hands-on. In addition to leading team meetings and working to make a coherent scope and sequence for social studies in our school, I visit the history teachers' classrooms and have conversations with them afterwards about their classrooms, the work we're doing school-wide, and general opinions about what's happening in the field and with them. The leadership team, composed of all lead teachers and administrators, meets regularly to discuss what's going on throughout the school and what work needs to be done moving forward. Overall, the work has seemed very fast-paced and fairly fruitful, if a bit haphazard and unclear. That said, I've very much enjoyed it.
I've found the role to be challenging, but nearly precisely what I'd like to do at our school. Unlike an administrative role, I'm not required or legally able to deal with much of the nonsense principals and their assistants must deal with on a daily basis. From my perspective that consists of a ton of adolescent drama (sometimes between kids, other times between adults), as well as grappling far more directly with the disgusting bureaucracies that are the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers. Instead my focus is on my students and fellow teachers and the overall health of the school. I get to have real conversations with the staff about their thoughts on how to improve their own instruction and our school community, while administrators oftentimes do not have the time to do so. I also still teach classes of middle and high school students, including four subjects, unlike the vast majority of administrators in NYC and the U.S. in general, who do not teach students at all. This last piece is what keeps me sane, although most humans don't understand how dozens and dozens of thirteen-year-olds every day could possibly perserve anyone's sanity. Many days, at the end of my fifth period class, any observer would likely call me a liar for making this claim, but it's the truth.
A challenge I have found myself navigating is how to best express in and outside of our school what I think should be done, while at the same time knowing what I say will affect more people than those residing in my classroom. Perhaps this is still another reason that I've not written too much here this year. In general, whenever I find myself in a new group or role I tend to find it beneficial to take a while to look around, see where I stand and where to step, and listen to the folks with whom I'm working before I take a hard line on anything. As the role I've assumed this year is new for the school, I've tended to be a bit more cautious when airing opinions about what should happen regarding certain policies or decisions that seem less important. My ever vigilant teammates have half-jokingly called me out on it a number of times, asking when my first run for office will be, as my somewhat bland answers at times keep me safe and are rather obviously noncommittal.
What I'm finding is that my work has become a more fluid. In my first couple of years, the work was very static. I had classes, I planned what I was going to do in those rooms, I was in those classrooms at the designated times, I taught the children, I collected their work, I went home and graded that work, and then repeated. Now I find myself in a position where I design history curriculum collaboratively for our grade, but don't teach all of the history classes for my grade. In the past two years I've had student teachers, who take much of instructional workload in terms of my eighth grade students, but are themselves students and deserve planning and instruction. I also find myself wearing more hats than before- being part of every committee and also teaching a larger variety of classes.
As I move forward and define the role I've taken on, my hope is to clarify, for myself and for my teams, the work in which we're engaging. More than just the rigid cyclical role of a classroom teacher, I hope others will see the connection between our classrooms, grade levels, and content teams and will use our collaborative time and energies to capitalize on the potential those connections have for increasing the learning outcomes of our students. It seems to me that the move has begun and that this spring will give an opportunity to clarify the means by which the staff will tackle our challenging load. I'm looking forward to it.