This is a love letter to the last 4 years of my life. It’s choppy. It’s fragmented. It’s a bit all over the place – like any good love letter is. This is to myself. To my students. To my friends and colleagues. To all the folks I’ve met along the way that have made this adventure the best of my life.
Four years ago I was nervously but excitedly planning for my grand entrance into high school teaching. I had been teaching for 9 years in an elementary school. I felt pretty confident in what I was doing there but I was also feeling sort of stagnant and this opportunity came up and seemed perfect. I read the newspapers and spoke to my colleague about what was actually happening in the school – he shared it was a bit chaotic but that the kids were incredible. As I planned and read and practiced, I visualized the relationships with the students; the artwork they’d make; their ideas that would spring forward. I felt for the first time ever that I was prepared mentally and emotionally for something.
The first day of school was chaotic. My classes were huge! I didn’t have enough chairs for my 5th period class of 52 that showed up. Transitioning from one classroom to another felt frantic and confusing to my brain. But. I left that day knowing I had made the right decision. I texted my friend who had helped me make the choice to move and helped me plan, “Thank you. I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Today was the best day of my life.” And I meant it.
As I entered high school as an educator 4 years ago I will speak about each year as if I was a high school student.
My freshman year was a whirlwind of figuring everything out…and yet figuring nothing out. My students were my center. I knew that as I messed up over and over again that I was so lucky that my kids were so patient with me. This year UDL came into my life in a real, defined way. My brain began to understand the holes in my own education. I dove deep into understanding and implementing UDL. This was the year I met A. This student changed my life in more ways that I can describe. I knew entering high school that relationships were important, but I never thought that those relationships would change my life.
My sophomore year was clearer. I knew some of what worked and what didn’t. I still messed up everywhere. But I also knew that relationships were the most important. I started teaching AP Studio Art this year. My philosophy of having anyone in the class and it being my job to teach, support, and scaffold to what students’ needed changed the way I taught in so many ways. This was 2016. So the election results dramatically changed how I felt about teaching. I had always been focused on voice and choice; using education and my own teaching as a method of activism and social justice – but these results made it clear that I needed to focus more and push my own boundaries so I could serve my students better. Using UDL to proactively plan for students’ needs and give all kids what they need (as much as I could) created an environment where students felt they could be successful and they expressed this. This year I began working with the PLC “The Art of Variability” – a powerful working group learning and implementing UDL in the arts.
My junior year was hard. There was lots of turbulence in the building. My kids were incredible and loving. There was a lot of death within the building. I hid all my pain from my students and those closest to me. If I began to share, I was fearful I would crumble and I couldn’t. I was nervous about my crew of kids graduating – I was also so damn proud of each of them. When I saw them everyday, I worried about them, what happens when I don’t see them everyday? How will our relationship shift? This year was the most rewarding year. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier inside a space. Watching my kids lead workshops on cloud painting; how to critique art; throwing on the wheel – I felt like I was living in a dream. I had visualized a lot things prior to beginning high school – but nothing like this.
My senior year was interesting. I was asked to “graduate” early – haha. Leaving the classroom midyear to move into a coaching position. That semester though – was nothing like I could’ve imagined. My AP class was a class one dreams about – a mixture of kids from all grades, all backgrounds, all experiences. A class that loves each other; gives each other honest criticism in order to help each other grow; works so hard; and genuinely just so wonderful to be around. I had shifted my methodology in order to push kids in new ways – this caused some discomfort with kids who weren’t used to this way. I loved working with kids and left exhausted and happy. Moving into the coaching role was such a huge transition, I didn’t realize how massive until this summer. Coaching is something I enjoy and it’s a shift… and for another post for sure.
So I share all of this brief reflection on each year in order to bring you to where I am right now. I feel like I am straddling two time periods in my life. I am curious as to what will happen next and where life will take me. But I want to do some visualizing in order to help nudge life along.
As a Coach I will find the same amount of love and satisfaction I found in my classroom.
Working with adults around pedagogy, instruction, and resources will push me to grow as an educator.
Implementing UDL within classrooms and supporting that work will be a labor of love, with love actualized.
I will not be afraid to speak up or out when I notice inequity – things like gatekeeping, resource hoarding, and deficit language – all in the name of the love of all kids.
I can keep these things center as I move through this new work.