Saturday, June 16, 2012
The pluses of my new big, big school - tons of resources for students in terms of activities, and functioning systems. If you need something, there is [almost] always someone whose job it is to help you get it or do it. The Copy Center, for example, and the lovely gentleman who unfailingly did his job, removed a huge level of stress from my life. (Former school - 25 teachers - 2 machines that worked sometimes? Much hysteria and squabbling.)
The downsides include the flip side of the positive - the large size, which permits the wealth of extra-curricular activities, and the staff to do all those administrative things that teachers have to do (or they don't get done) in small schools, also creates anonymity. There were students to whom I became attached in the fall term, whose paths I did not cross again in the spring. There were teachers who thought I was a sub all year long because they barely saw me. This is a HUGE change from a small school, where every teacher knows every other teacher, and in which you know most of the students by name because you have taught all of them at least once. A longtime resident of NYC, I do not necessarily find large populations a negative, but I understood how freshmen might feel coming to the school for the first time - a face in the crowd without compadres. I had some lonely moments.
I also found that large long-established, well-functioning schools house long term staff members who cling to the past (even young ones), and who resist and even ignore the changes in the system. They rely on 'the contract' to proscribe their activities; the suggestion of doing official work beyond the 6 hours and 50 minutes is a schande. Coming from a struggling school in which the staff went to herculean efforts to engage students through a continually evolving and reflective practice, and create a nurturing culture, I was disheartened to see that some of the stereotypes of teachers do in fact exist. Not everyone, of course, is like this, but enough staff members are, so that they can create a force of entropy.
But there are many hard-working and caring people in my new school. Sadly, I have not found like-minded individuals within my own department, even though the 'numbers' [scores on state tests show us to be a very successful team. There is a well-bonded inner core of teachers in the department (did someone say clique?) who have worked together for years, and even though they were always sociable and 'friendly' to me, I clearly was not part of the group. Further, the person who hired me, who I admire and enjoy working for, announced her retirement midyear. Her successor? One of the group, natch. I am adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
So I guess I sound pretty negative, and I have had some dark moments, wondering whether I made the right decision to choose this school out of the several good options I had. I have even dabbled in checking out new openings in other schools. But transition is hard, and it takes time to put down roots. At the end of the term, as I wondered whether I should make a substantial effort to move again this year, I noticed that I did make many connections - with students. And this is, of course, why I teach. On the last day of classes, when my students said, "We'll miss you!", I told them I wasn't going anywhere, and that they could come see me next year. So I guess I will have to make that true.
I haven't even talked about my teaching this past year - which is a much better story - for my next post.