And it’s both exciting as well as nerve-wracking. I’ve thought a lot about what I would like to do, and I’m pretty content with the conclusions that I’ve made.
The first conclusion is that I will continue working with students from low-income communities. I had considered temporarily moving to a private or magnet school that explicitly focused on teaching through inquiry (teaching through asking questions and having the students figure everything out themselves), such as some Montessori schools, so that I can learn from the educators there. But, through various school visits, I’ve realized that the instruction at these schools are not, by definition of being a private or magnet school, all that much better from the instruction that I see happening at KIPP Academy and other high performing charter schools. Instead, just like at most schools, there is good instruction, and not so good instruction. The difference is the children. While children at most private schools have tutors and educated parents to fall back on if they don’t receive the instruction they need in class, the children from low-income backgrounds don’t. If I am to become a strong inquiry based educator, one who both excites student curiosity and guides 100% of them to master skills and content, then I need to be at a school serving low-income children. I will learn more from my children and learn more from my colleagues, as well as contribute more, if I were to continue working with students from low-income communities.
My second conclusion is that that I want to move to the elementary grade levels. I know my own personality, and I know that I enjoy working with younger children (ages 5-12) more than older children (12+). I also know my career aspirations, and those include leading an elementary school. I am a strong believer in elementary education, and how important it is in setting a strong foundation for children’s futures. Furthermore, I see that very often, elementary schools lack strong science instruction, and I hope that my experience in science will be a great contribution to my new school. Moving to the lower grades will be difficult, because it’s like I’m a new teacher all over again, but I want to learn, I crave the challenge, and I think that ultimately, this will be to the benefit of both my children and myself. I’ve already started observing classes at KIPP SHINE, the elementary school that now feeds into KIPP Academy. I know that I have a lot to learn, especially about children’s development, and how to teach reading and writing, and I look forward to this!
Third, I’m going to continue pursuing professional development in data-tracking and analysis, as well as in inquiry-based instruction. I don’t think these two skills are the antithesis of each other, in fact, I think these two skills are necessary complements of one another. I have a potential start-up in mind that will help make data-tracking and analysis easier for everyone (courtesy of a conversation with one of my favorite Teach for America thought partners), and am doing a lot of thinking around this right now. I’ve talked about how to better track data with everyone I’ve met, and it’s amazing what skills and knowledge people have to offer, from a recommendation for a book (Data, Data, Everywhere by Dr. Victoria L. Bernhardt) to potential connections (like to people in the field of data visualization). This will require tenacity on my end to follow through with my commitments, and to not lose sight of a final goal in the midst of every day teaching.
Finally, I know that I want to work with an effective team. I want to work in a school where all the adults in the building are similarly dedicated to developing our children’s skills and character. I want to work in a school where we have our children’s best interests in mind, and where all our decisions are filtered through the question, how does this help our students five, ten, fifteen, twenty years down the line? Some people say that it’s necessary to experience what it’s like to work in a dysfunctional system, one in which more things go wrong than go right. After all, if I really wanted to change education for ALL children, then I would need to know what most of these students experience every day. However, my question is, how do we build an excellent system if we have no models to work from? I want to be part of the team that builds those great models. Not just good models, GREAT models.
Is there more thinking that I need to do concerning my next career step? Certainly. But, here’s where my thoughts are as of Sunday, December 4th.
Note: If I could pick up KIPP Academy, along with all of its faculty, students, and parents, and move it over to New York City, I would. I love my school. Applying for a new job in NYC is the next best thing. ;p