All figured out

Jeffrey Zeldman NYCWhen I was a first-year teacher, I thought my second year of teaching would be unimaginably easy.  By year two, I reckoned, I’d have it all figured out: a year’s worth of lesson plans and perfect systems for grading and classroom management.  As a result, I’d have all kinds of free time on the weekend.

Of course, that wasn’t the case.  Sure, a few things were easier, but every year brings new kids, new ideas to try out, and new “asks” of educators.  And then there’s simply the pursuit of excellence: as a teacher, Sundays were about reading over student work and planning.  I learned to be more efficient, but I spent the same amount of time planning because I was always learning how to teach better.

The same goes for being the founding principal of a school.  This is my school’s 9th year of existence and when I write this blog, I want to have it all figured out.  Yet each year, I encounter a new school with new promise, and new challenges.

Take, for example, last Friday.  We had a student-led assembly around the cultures of Latin America, which is a tradition in our school (we do four assemblies per year around different cultures).  The event was supposed to be 45 minutes, taking into account time for students to settle down and listen.

The assembly only lasted 35 minutes.  Why?  Kids entered the auditorium and sat with their teachers, and they listened.  In fact, they were on model behavior the entire time.  We had been training students to show this kind of respect since the beginning of the year, and had seen mixed results during earlier assemblies, but this time the training had taken full effect.

So in ways like this, I feel as if I have a new school, and new possibilities for how we can operate.

We also have had new challenges.  We had one large cafeteria fight at the beginning of the year that took us all by surprise and then started to play out on social media.  We’re also seeing a huge rise in vaping.  In these ways as well, I feel as if I have a new school.

But as with the improvements, I’ve seen how the challenges bring new possibilities.  As much as I did not enjoy the experience of the fight, I gained an insight through a  discussion with my leadership consultants: kids manufacture challenges when they are insecure, and a major point of insecurity is, “What am I doing after high school?”  If kids have a clear plan for their lives after high school and feel good about it, these challenges will probably start to dissipate.  We’re just starting to explore how we can help students make a real plan for life after high school, beyond applying to college.

So yes, every year, I think I come in with all the answers, but I find a new and different school where I get to learn as much from the students as they learn from us.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Zeidman, Creative Commons License


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