What works

This week, as I prepare to grade my very first class of senior English students, ever, I’ve been thinking about what works. For them, for me: for us. A few days ago, a colleague came up to me in the hallway during class change (she rushed out of her room as she saw me rushing past) said, “I love you! You’re wonderful!” And, gave me a big, warm hug.

Naturally, I had no idea what she was talking about, and said, “What’d I do?”

“Your blog! I started reading you. I love what you write.”

While it was a wonderful thing that she took the time to say this–and, I especially enjoyed the heartfelt hug–it started me thinking. I haven’t been writing much, lately. And, I thought about why. I’m busy. And, I thought about what is going on where I work.

Anybody who’s read my educational writing knows I am the first one to be blunt, to call it like I see it. I’ll tell you this: where I work, right now, is educational bliss. I can’t help it, I analyze. Why? It’s a bit of a mystery.

I teach at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, Florida. I’ve taught at LOTS of schools, starting with student teaching waaaaay back in the day at P. K. Yonge Laboratory school in Gainesville, Florida, in the 1980’s. From there, I came to Pierson Elementary, in Volusia County; then, Sterling Park Elementary, in Seminole County; back to Volusia and kind of up-the-ladder into administration (not my preferred m.o.); to eventually work at UCF in the medical school as an educational training specialist with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities–I retired from there. In between, I taught high school in North Carolina, and at the University of North Carolina, too; as well as doubling up at UCF and working for the English Department. I realize all this job-hopping seems a little weird to most people, but for somebody in Exceptional Student Education, it is normal behavior. (Did I mention teaching inpatient students for VCS at the Children’s Crisis Stabilization Unit for three years?)  You, as an ESE teacher, are responsible for your  own sanity, and movement is necessary for that. I love ESE, I do. Right now, I teach general education. Gen Ed. I have plenty of ESE students in my classes, and am at my most fluent meeting their educational needs. But, I am in love with what I am doing, right now. And, I turn in grades tomorrow. Did I really type that?! Yes. I did.  I told Dr. Sparger when he hired me that my dream is to be Kate Maroney in front of the class, eyes glowing, sitting on the stool breathlessly sharing from Jane Eyre. He got it. Immediately. I may never be able to live up to that ideal English teacher of mine, but I’m there. I truly am.

I know this is a long-winded post, but what I am really thinking of is all the things which work at this wonderful school I’m blessed to be working at. Is it perfect? By no means. Are the students, teachers, or administrators better somehow than other people? Uh, no. But, something works. It absolutely has to be deliberate. I’m (I won’t say just–I never felt more vital or valued as an educator) a teacher; I’m blissfully unsubject to the machinations of administration. But. But; the culture of respect, the culture of facilitation, the culture of meditatively, enthusiastically seeking knowledge is unparalleled in my experience.

Today, I had dozens of students thank me. Today was the last day they could turn in some rather challenging assignments. Book reviews. I taught them to write book reviews, and they all had different books. They boldly backed their opinions with specific details without revealing storyline; several openly became readers! That’s not me, folks. That’s a school that still has room for teacher design and creativity in the curriculum. How they do it is a mystery I’m happy to remain blissfully ignorant of. I’m there, people. I’m in teacher heaven. (And, that little left-over state-department-of-ed-bureaucrat in me wonders, “How do they do it? Can we bottle it? Can we share??? Shhhh, Kate. Enjoy.”)

Jacob Cumiskey, backstage at graduation, Spruce Creek High School, 2011. (photo credit, Daytona News Journal)


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