Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Road Not Taken

I am a teacher.

These past few years have been an incredible journey, both personal and professional.  Looking back now, my growth seems like it has multiplied exponentially and I wonder what might have happened to me if I had not been plucked from my comfort zone and forced to create my own path.

I was very comfortable in my classroom, almost too comfortable. Routine had etched itself into my life and like the conditioned response of Pavlov's dog, I was trained to adhere to the bell. The students were what kept one day from looking like the next and within the classroom things were never boring, but I had ceased to grow. I was able to get out and learn in the summers through travel, workshops and conferences, but from September until June I was so busy helping kids that I found myself without the time or energy to put up much of a fight against a top-down administrative structure that didn't make much sense to me.

I had to surgically remove my school keys from my hands and retrain my body to work without a bell schedule in my educator outreach work with the State this past year.  I knew it would be a challenge, but I also knew it would be temporary and the payoff in terms of teacher voice might be huge, so I didn't mind the risks of being a gadfly. I soon discovered that few policy makers had any classroom experience beyond a few years, and practitioner perspective was lacking.  I pushed boundaries, which always got me in some trouble, but I didn't mind because if it all went wrong I  knew there was always the safety net of my classroom to catch me. What I did know was that I missed the kids terribly during the time I was gone, and that kept me focused. I was doing this for them, and for the profession.

What I discovered is that growth means that you can't go back. Not to the way things were, anyway.  I learned too much to simply ignore the policy and advocacy work I had done and lock my classroom door, but I was torn because I love teaching. Would I have to put aside my passion for teaching or my drive to help improve the profession?  It was an unfair choice to have to make. The ideal job would allow me to combine my passions and continue to grow, but without a viable career continuum that unicorn didn't exist where I was. I could teach and work with kids, become an administrator and lead, or leave altogether to work on policy, but I could not do all three. Or so I thought.

I have recently accepted a new job in the education department of my alma mater that will allow me to teach, lead and work on policy. With echo's of TNTP's The Irreplaceables report floating in my mind, the deal was sealed for me when the college said, "We want you. What do we have to do to get you here?" They love that I question the status quo and desire my practitioner perspective to help improve the teacher preparation program.  They even want me to continue to advocate for teacher voice and wrote it into my job description.  It is a dream job. So why am I so scared and why do I feel so guilty? 

The fear is the great fear of the unknown combined with the idea that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  I can't wait to get my hands on a class and teach again, but college is different than P-12.  I almost feel bad for my students, who will probably think I have done several espresso shots just before I come to class just because I will be so happy to see them. I am excited about the material I will be teaching and the people I will be working with, who have all been incredibly supportive and welcoming so far. I am even moving to a new place closer to college to help me simplify life, but the devil is in the details. After living with a routine for so long, when I think about all the change that is about to happen and the lack of a safety net, waves of nausea set in. While looking around in a furniture store yesterday, I had to sit down and put my head between my knees because it was getting a little difficult to breathe. What happens if I fail? Even worse, what happens if I don't try? The thought of letting anyone down is almost more than I can bear.

The guilt comes from the feeling that I am abandoning my P-12 students. Some look at me like I am selling out because I have left my classroom, but I am looking at it as being able to affect change on a different level. The existing structure of schools, where you either teach or lead, has created a climate that largely defines what we and the public consider "normal." Just because it is something we have always done doesn't mean it is right. Habits are not always good, and accepting them without question is a problem. Teachers leading teachers should be a collaborative way to drive instructional change from the inside out, but petty jealousy often leads to a feeling of resentment among colleagues followed by statements like, "Who do they think they are?" Such attitudes make it easy for top-down management of schools and the silencing of teacher voice. 

In my quest to be a life long learner, I found myself at several conferences this summer. In my travels, when people ask me what I do, I tell them I am a history teacher. It is a reflex, but I have also come to realize that teaching is more than what I do, it is who I am. I will continue to grow, because I have a support system that is not content to let me fade into the sunset. I will try and I may fail, but I will learn and continue to make new paths in order to do what is best for students and the profession. Although external factors like job and residency may change, my core has not. I am still a teacher and I always will be.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.        15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ms. DelColle, it's Nicole Chams., one of your former history students. I have been trying to contact you somehow to tell you of my recent endeavors and that you have inspired me to go into teaching myself. I always knew that I have wanted to help people in a sense but never knew it would be through teaching. I am currently an Elementary Education major with a specialization in Literacy Studies to receive a reading endorsement with helping special education students. I am also learning American Sign Language hoping to minor in Deaf Studies.

    I am in my second year of college and I am studying abroad in England right now which is a blast so far! Through my studies I have traveled to Belgium, Amsterdam and France and I am also encouraging other students to study abroad and helping them with their application. You have achieved so much in your life that I look up to you and I am in the process of creating my own path hoping to achieve as much as you had done so. I wish I could attatch pictures but since I am commenting on your blog I am unable to do so but I just wanted to say thank you. You have truly become a role model for me.