(By Walt Williams) You always remember the first week of school. You remember your freshman year in high school, sitting in class at Davis High in Modesto, nervous and excited, new people, new experiences, new pressures, who will you become? Where will you end up? What path will you choose?
Years later you still feel the excitement, the potential of the next nine months only now you are in front of the class instead of sitting in it. You take your profession very seriously. You know that what you bring to the classroom can make or break a developing mind.
You have spent the summer immersed in curriculum preparation because after 20 years you know that being prepared is what teaching is all about. CCSS (Common Core State Standards) training, MARS tasks, Code Writing, POM’s, SVMI, VTS, it has been a summer of acronyms. (You hate acronyms, your job is to make information relatable and understandable; good teaching is connection not separation.)
Education makes sense to you again. The pendulum of teaching has swung back to holistic knowledge and the why’s of learning. No more teaching to the test, the journey is just as important as the destination. Kids need to think and inquire and solve problems. “Learn deeper” Is what your t-shirt slogan will be this year in your art class.
You have had many interesting conversations over the summer about the common core state standards. Some think that you are reinventing education, that two-plus-two will now equal five instead of four. You even had a parent ask if Scientologists created the standards. Change is scary,; everyone like comfort. You get that, but you have been teaching “engagement in knowledge” for 20 years and are super-excited that finally big education has figured it out. Unified standards that focus on learning not test taking — yes please.
You know the road will have a few bumps, as some of your students don’t see the importance of learning. You develop a relationship with individuals to try and overcome whatever is blocking their development. You are a farmer, planting seeds, monitoring growth, feeding, trimming, nurturing.
Your first four-week unit is called “Technology and how we learn.” Neuroscience, Plato, “Farenheight 451, “ The IPhone 6… your curriculum is sometimes as ADD as your thinking, but you have back-planned using the Common Core State Standards in Math and English and the NGSS standards in Science. The students understand what they are expected to know by the end of the semester and the end of the year.
You hit the ground running, 180 days to accomplish miracles, inspire leaders, create and change paths. You don’t work alone; your team is strong and connected. Some help more than others and some don’t follow your student-centered vision but you play through. Keep planting, keep feeding, never focus on drama and small town grumblings, you have a product to produce and when that product falters, you stake it and help it grow. Your philosophy takes time and patience and assertiveness but you are confident and your record is good and getting better.
After a few days the students settle into their patterns. You see personalities emerging, connections happening, relationships forming, and potential fires where you need to intervene. Your curriculum is working but you must keep it fluid, always encouraging thought, leading questions, promoting student interaction. Your classroom climate is developing, education is happening, seeds are growing.
It is the first week of school and you have the greatest job in the world.
Walt Williams is in his fifteenth year of teaching engagement at Creekside High School.