Saturday, February 4, 2012

Remembering My Place

On the last day of my first year of teaching where I still teach now, my department chair asked me to meet with him. He was a kind, soft-spoken, well-respected scholar and leader. I had no trepidation going into the meeting; I figured he wanted to bring some closure to my first year at the school, give me some sage advice, that sort of thing. And while I cannot remember his approach, I'm sure it was gentle. All I can remember are his critical words, his implied admonition for the future.

"There are some members of this department who are intimidated by you. They are offended that you make so many suggestions; you come across like you know everything about teaching English." Well. I know I was floored by the accusation, but I have no recollection of a response. I do remember making a beeline to my best friend's classroom, where I found him in tears over a similar experience with his department chair, and we wept together. This is what teaching here was going to be like? Were we that bad? We had killed ourselves that year, working so diligently to make every moment a meaningful one for our students. And the last thought before summer vacation would not be one of confident victory, but rather one of bitter sadness.

I learned a valuable lesson that day, of course. And it wasn't the one my chair wanted me to learn. I didn't learn to keep my mouth shut. I didn't learn to defer to the veteran members of my department. I didn't learn to hide my talents as a teacher. I learned to never, never do that to another rookie. My belief that newly-inducted teachers were skilled professionals never waned. And for me, now, veteran status doesn't mean anything, except that I am a veteran. I have years, but others often have great ideas. I have experience in the classroom, but others often have life experiences that help them understand their students. I've taught lots of lessons, been around a while, but those coming with recent educational training often have insights that complement my experience.

I hope that, upon my retirement day (in the very faraway future), the rookie teachers with whom I have had the utmost pleasure to work will be able to say that I valued them from the very start. That while I shared with them my lessons, I also considered theirs. That when they spoke, I listened, and I heard. That I built them up, supported them, encouraged them. I didn't get that from my department when I was a new teacher here. Times have changed. I've made sure of that.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! Seems like the profession has moved out of the Middle Ages over the last 20 years, largely in part, due to attitudes like yours. I am happy to say I have not had such a raw experience in my 7 years. What an awful thing to have done!