I arrived early last Friday, adhering to my normal morning routine of a cup of coffee and plain bagel (toasted, with butter) at Starbucks before beginning my day. Lucky for me, there is a Starbucks very appropriately placed immediately next to my pristine new school.
It was about 7:00 in the morning, and I stood across the street, watching some of the workers putting finishing touches on things, moving out some tools, and examining their work. And that’s when it hit me.
I’m opening a school. This is literally a dream come true.
Most teachers go into education with an overly optimistic hope of changing the world. We believe that if we’re true to ourselves and always keeping kids’ best interests at the center of everything we do, we will make and impact and we’ll make a change. Too often, though, these hopes don’t come to fruition, teachers succumb to systemic pressures, and they burn out, like a wavering candle flickering on a low wick, drowning in its own melting wax.
No teacher wants this to happen, though. But it happens all too often.
I sat in my new classroom, before anyone else had arrived, admiring the open space, the blank walls, even the negative space, filled with the unknown possibility of what a new school year, a brand new school, and brand new students and families will bring to my life. I felt the urge to do a million things, to start setting things up, to order more supplies–all of that stuff.
However, my teaching partner and I have agreed to change the way we set up our classroom this year. Instead of ordering all of the furniture and decorating the walls, we are starting with a blank slate. It occurred to me recently how impossible and impractical it is to truly set up a space for kids without their input. Learning is messy, learning is dynamic, and learning never takes on the same form that it did the day–or the year–before.
This year, our students will be designing their own space through a variety of provocations, design thinking experiences, and pure experimentation. They will be building the space in which they will learn and grow, hopefully, over the course of many years. It’s my hope that this experience will not only invest them in our space and make them love coming to school, but also that it changes the way that they think about learning and its role in our every day lives. And it is my hope that it will fuel my passion for what I do even more.
I think, above all else, I’ve realized through working in an office for the past month, that I need my students and their ideas to keep my fire burning, just as much as they need me for the same, which is why I am so excited to design a space with them, one that makes their ideas and their unique perspective on the world visible and tangible on the four walls of our classroom. It will be a concrete display of one of the most foundational and rudimentary truths of what education is and should be: The art of teaching requires symbiotic relationships, where the constant exchange of ideas and passions promotes synthesis and mutual growth. I’ve missed the art, I’ve missed the chaos, and I’ve missed the synergy that permeates the classroom.
And I can’t wait for this school year to start.