In My Brain / 07

Here are some things that have passed through my brain this week. Happy Sunday!

ART // The public art in this city is truly fantastic, and I can't wait to see Open Source, the Mural Arts Program's spring exhibition, featuring Shepard Fairey and others.

VOCABULARY // Teaching high school has made me familiar with 100% of these terms. How about you?

TIME SUCK // I wish one of my students had invented Google Feud. (I still really love Google Poetics, too.)

TEACHABLE // I'm filing away these 25 Maps That Explain the English Language to jumpstart a future lesson plan.

image // Heeseop Yoon

Fish Bowl

Half a dozen grown-ups accumulate in my classroom, fighting for standing room near the walls, taking pictures of the posters with their cell phones, peeking over students' shoulders, and asking them questions about what they're working on. 

I've never seen any of these people before. And I had no idea they would be here.

This week, or any other.

This isn't totally unusual. We get a lot of visitors at our school. I very vaguely recall someone mentioning to me when I was hired that this would happen, but it certainly didn't register.  That was only a few months ago, so it's strange to see now that this semi-regular occurrence does not freak me out at all. 

I'm mostly unfazed. I even seem to usually have an extra photocopy or two handy, as if anticipating that a visitor will request one.

This week, in a lesson I had planned a bit more hurriedly than I would have liked, and about which I was already feeling somewhat meh, I found myself inside this fish bowl with my students. 

More specifically, my most energetic group of ninth graders. 

Not long ago existing in a moment like this would have induced profuse sweating and very real anxiety. I would have stuttered and created some questionable word groups in my mouth. My focus would have faltered, and I would half-listen as a student asked a question or made a point while my eyes darted around the room: Is the objective on the board? Is my lesson plan in plain sight? Is every human engaged-looking?

Would I be able to prove that teaching and learning are happening, when asked by someone who isn't so sure by looking?

I wish I could say that I'm being dramatic, or that many years of that clammy-handed fear is overblown.

The visitors stuck around for half an hour. They saw the lesson's objectives and transitions as they happened. They saw me, they saw the students, and they saw the work we do. Unpolished, honest, what would’ve happened without them.

In the minutes after the students were dismissed, our visitors wanted to ask me a few questions. How did I come up with this idea? How do I collaborate with my colleagues? Why did I decide to do it this way? How are the students responding to that?

Questions. A dialogue. Curiosity and conversation. 

In the last 6 months I’ve been observed more times and by more people than I ever had in many years of teaching before this, combined. The visits vary in length, purpose, and feedback: sometimes my performance is being observed, sometimes my colleagues and I are collaborating on strategies or students, sometimes it’s the superintendent, or a nonprofit organization, or a tech company. Sometimes my principal just wants to pop his head in and say hi. Sometimes it’s complete strangers, on their own quest, and it has nothing to do with me.

And never this year do I feel attacked. Or belittled. Or gotcha-ed.

But instead. The benefit of the doubt of good intentions. The caring inquiry about the work.
What if this were a given? If it had always been?
What if more voices had been part of the conversation about my classes for all those years?
What if I never felt scared and small when I was new at this? When I needed the most support?

I'm grateful for this turn. 

Where I was once tense and apprehensive, I am now comfortable with the traffic. With the vulnerability of my open door. With however class goes down, and whoever sees it. Over and over again the visits lead to new ideas, troubleshooting challenges, a tiny pinch of commiserating, and above all, a stronger sense of community. Reminders that we’re all in it, we’re all trying, and we all have something to teach and learn.

So, yeah. Door's open. Drop by anytime.