On this last, stunningly sunny day in July, I am going to be an amazing teacher. Come late August, all my students will be eager to get reading, grateful for the fabulous syllabus I’ll hand out, and they’ll be charmed by my relaxed and welcoming banter. Free of awkward sweat stains, I will set a tone of rigorous standards and a love of humanity that will captivate each group from the moment they enter my sanctuary of excellence. I love July. Hope springs.
In reality, it’s time to hustle. I have two new classes that I conjured up last year; they seemed potentially brilliant in my fever-dreams of curricular creativity. Now it’s time to choose standards, create assessments, design the lessons, and pull together the resources. It’s hard and it’s incredibly fun to do all that; it’s also high stakes and risky. I have today and tomorrow to get that done. Next Monday I’ll be part of a week-long class with colleagues to continue improving our proficiency-based curricula. I’m going to spend that time working on a class that I’ve taught before, but never with a proficiency-based learning frame. I will have to rethink and rework the entire year’s curriculum. That, too, will be hard, fun, and take some courage. There’s a lot of deep-breathing once we get onto the on-ramp of a new school year. There’s loin-girding, quiet prayers to the teaching gods, and obsessive chair counting. It’s a big deal, prepping for the start of the year, and if you are talking to an honest teacher, you know that it starts now. We may try to extend the denial stage, but the end of July marks it – we are in countdown mode.
I believe, in a serious and Capital Letter sort of way, that my job is about getting students to think hard about their role in our world. I am working as hard as I can, with all the tricks, leadership, and grit I can muster – and I’ve got lots of all of that — to help kids see that their empathy, their engagement, and their connection to each other and to the world outside themselves matter deeply. Weirdly, I believe that complex literature is one fabulous starting point for that engagement. Shakespeare, Margaret Atwood, and Ta-Nehisi Coates are all asking students what they think, and what they want to do about the world we’ve all built together. I am excited to help kids unpack, and wrestle with, big books that challenge us with those questions.
I will use this blog space to document that journey during this school year. It’s my twenty-fourth first-day coming up. That sounds like a lot of first days to me, but it still gives me butterflies. This year will be a bumpy, or frustrating, or dull, or confusing ride sometimes, and I will try to be honest about that. I will also try to be honest about the moments of transcendence and discovery. Those will happen too, and I intend to celebrate them. Our district initiatives around proficiency-based graduation requirements, our pilot program of support for all students that we are calling Solon Block, and the general Montpelier ethos of tolerance, connectedness, and sustainability will all make appearances here, and all are worthy. I’m all-in with all of those. But for this First Blog of My Life, I want to use this space to keep track of how literature is challenging my students to look in the mirror, and to look at their own world with brave eyes. Thank you for reading, and wish me luck! Viva July! Cheers.