Every fall for the past three years I’ve taught a small seminar course, Issues and Debates in Life Development, a course that could otherwise be titled, the Best of Psychology and Sociology 101, to first-semester freshmen at the University of Texas. The first half of the course covers psychological concepts such as attachment theory and relationships, while the second half covers forms of social oppression such as racism, classism, ableism, sexism, and heterosexism.
Teachers, this Thanksgiving, we’re reflecting on how thankful the world is to have people like you in it.
For all of the mornings you wake up early, and the nights you stay up late.
For the lessons you plan long after the school day has ended, the materials you carefully get together on your weekends, and pay for with your own money, without giving it a second thought.
For the smiles you share and hands you hold, the dreams you help unfold.
Atul Gawande and I have something important in common. It’s not that we’re both respected surgeons-that’s him, not me. And it’s not that we’ve both published widely-read books-again, just him. What we have in common is this: We believe just about everybody, no matter their profession, would benefit from having a coach.
Four years ago, Gawande wrote a widely-circulated New Yorker article about this idea, including an extended anecdote about the importance of coaching for K-12 teachers. Although I read and appreciated the article back in 2011, I only recently connected Gawande’s reflections to my own career patterns.
I wanted nothing more than to go home and spend time with my family before officially moving to my new home in Arkansas. I missed them, but I ultimately decided that logistics wouldn’t work in my favor, and making it home would be nearly impossible. It was the best decision I made. Instead of going home, I was able to move into my new house, get to know my roommates, and drive around my new city to learn about everything it had to offer.
As a new teacher, it’s easy to feel frustrated when your students aren’t as jazzed about the class material as you are. Teachers put in so much effort to plan lessons, craft dope Power Points, and input grade data, all while avoiding the temptation of binge watching “Orange is the New Black.”
Luckily, Kendrick Lamar’s music is a common enthusiasm we share, and is as much a part of my English class as my students and their teacher. We recently used two of his pieces to analyze literary terms. During our first full week of school, I played the music video for his song “i” to highlight setting and mood. I could instantly see how much more engaged my students became.
I always remember the day that we talked about gay marriage in class. It was ninth grade, and I was deeply in the closet and in the throes of self-hate. When my teacher brought it up, I felt every beat of my heart and slumped down in my chair so I didn’t seem “too interested” in the discussion. Yet hearing my teacher and my classmates discuss LGBTQ rights, not as a bad thing, but because it was important to discuss, was incredible.
Recently, a new acquaintance asked me, “You’re an elementary school teacher, right?” Shockingly, my immediate reaction was to say, “No, I’m not.”
This is absurd for many reasons. The first and most obvious is that I am, in fact, an elementary school teacher. But for me, the title evokes an image of a middle-aged woman in mom jeans and tennis shoes, teaching songs and art to a small group of children for a few hours each day.
Joining Teach For America meant a lot for me. I wanted to change the lives of children, hopefully in a city I loved, but I also joined for me. As a single parent, I know I have to work extra hard to be the best example for my son, Isaiah. From my training at Institute through the last day of school, I have learned more about Isaiah, my students, and myself.