On my first day of school this year, I felt like the room was on fire.
Even though the air conditioner was set to a chilly 68 degrees, I was drenched in sweat. The day had obviously taken its toll. My shirt felt as if it was stuck to my back, and I stared out across my cluttered, disheveled, trashed classroom with a thousand-yard stare usually reserved in movies for war veterans or people who had just survived some sort of apocalyptic natural disaster. I thought to myself, “What am I doing?” “Why am I here?” “Why did I think I could do this?”
I look back on that day now with pride. I am unable to put into words the number of lessons, big and small, that I have learned this year. I am head and shoulders a better teacher than I was before I came to DCPS. My first year at Ballou has been paved with smiles, tears, and reflection. My growth, both professionally and personally, has changed me forever. The learning that takes place in my classroom today is like night and day compared to the beginning of the year. My students learn more at their own pace, receive more feedback, and explore historical topics on their own level and with more depth.
I credit a large amount of this progress to a particular group of people that I met halfway through my first year. My Education Innovation Fellowship partners have helped me through some of the toughest times in my teaching journey. They helped me take the leap into blended learning. They helped me to discover new and fascinating ways to think about education. They also helped me to find the motivation to keep pushing through my toughest moments in my entire career.
Today, I enter a new chapter. Being new to urban education, I feel like I discover something new that I didn’t know existed every week. Yesterday I learned a new word: reconstitution. For the uninformed (like my former self), reconstitution is when a school staff is restructured, causing the majority of the employees to have to reapply to their current school in order to return the following year. It is a drastic measure, used in dire circumstances to help turn around schools that have seen very little growth or are in very poor situations. I am now in the process of reconstitution.
I am choosing to see this new chapter in my career as an opportunity. Last night, as I sat at home, I thought about wildfires and how the soil from the burned forest is actually the most fertile. Ballou High School has some of the most amazing students I have ever had the opportunity to teach. Their perseverance and determination through harsh circumstances has taught me so much. I feel we can use this new challenge as a moment to implement many of the things I have seen on my trips around the country. Blended learning and educational technologies have so much to offer students that we would be crazy to not try them here.
I plan to take a lesson I have learned from my students and push through this tough time. Nothing great in this world has ever been created without sacrifice. No great achievements have been accomplished without stumbles along the way. I would be lying if I said I’m not scared or nervous. But what helps is to look back and think—maybe this is Ballou’s moment of sitting in the classroom, sweat-soaked shirt stuck to its back, and looking out across the seats, putting pen to paper, writing down its plan for the future.