Community

Tonight we had a truly kickass meeting at P-W. This was a TFA-mandated thing, but it was meaningful because we had the opportunity to make it our own. Shoutout to my awesome MTLD for that. Tonight’s was easily the best session I’ve ever attended.

Three of our seniors came, one with a parent. Our principal attended, and several veteran teachers spoke. The students spoke passionately about feeling unprepared for college, betrayed by and suspicious of the revolving door of young teachers, and unaware of the realities of a world outside of our community. We heard teachers speak about feeling uninspired, unsupported and isolated.

I have never felt like a part of a professional community at P-W. We don’t have vertical alignment meetings and we’re not actively encouraged to plan across content areas. Expectations for students aren’t consistent among classrooms, staff meetings are always perfunctory, and most of us do not feel empowered to make changes to the way that our district operates. The students and the one parent present echoed the sentiment that something is missing, that they don’t feel involved.

We discussed a variety of plans to build community and involvement. I loved the idea of a mentoring program. In my vision, this is a program that assigns each student (or targeted students) a teacher with whom they are required to meet once a month to discuss their aspirations, accomplishments, and challenges. I’d do this during lunch, and require students to keep a portfolio or a video log chronicling their growth throughout high school. Each mentor would be limited by time to a few students, but I think we could find ways to build our capacity to do this. In other folks’ visions, mentoring took a very different form with seniors mentoring freshmen. Maybe some combination of the two ideas would work best.

Someone suggested polling teachers and students to determine interest levels in clubs or extracurricular classes or events to provide the enrichment that our small size prevents us from providing.  One of our seniors brought up the idea of a student government, which would kick ass and feed wonderfully into my scheme for community meetings (like the one we had tonight! The student council could present…) before parent-teacher conferences. This would happen only twice a year, so it wouldn’t require much additional effort for anyone, and would probably increase attendance and candor at our conferences astronomically.

Regarding improvements within the teacher community, we discussed the need for vertical alignment and new teacher mentoring. This stuff needs to happen: these are simple improvements that could have big impacts.

I felt so clueless when I started teaching at Palestine last year. I didn’t know any of the procedures, expectations or norms, I was in over my head just planning lessons, and I didn’t have anyone I felt comfortable confiding in or asking for help. I heard rumors that any field trip requests or after school club ideas would be nixed, and I felt discouraged and isolated and stressed. I feel all of those things much less now, and after tonight I’m feeling ready to take on some additional responsibilities.

I haven’t felt this inspired in a long time. On my ride home, I actually considered asking Sean to move closer to my school so that I could be more involved next year. I love my homestead on the ridge, but the 45 minute commute is draining and I don’t feel like a part of the social community that the P-W teachers have. I usually decline invitations to go to dinner or to hang out because I carpool with my partner, and I can’t leave him without a ride. I can’t make it home and then back to school before events, so if I have commitments after five, I wind up working 12 hour days with no dinner (this is because I’m picky and don’t eat Subway). Sometimes, I think that if Sean were more a part of my school community or I were more willing to sacrifice my time with him, I’d have a totally different experience and I’d be better at my job.

I’m probably not going to move. This place is my home for now, and I have put a lot of work into making it awesome, but I want it to speak to the excellence of this meeting that the thought crossed my mind. I will find other ways to be more present in my work through the end of this year and into next year, starting with tomorrow.

Big thanks to everyone who came out tonight, you’ve got me feeling excited about school!

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