I walked off the train this morning, my ear buds nestled inside my head, quieting the busy morning around me. The recycled and musty air of the underground train tousled my hair as the train took off behind me. It gave me a sense of peace as I walked up the stairs, ready to start that last day of school. The last day of school has it’s own unique feeling: one combined with reflection, happiness, relief, pride, and sadness. It’s one that only a teacher knows.
Time and Change
It’s funny how time seems to go just a little bit slower, not just towards the end of something, but also towards the beginning. I remember when the year started, the days seemed to move glacially, like we had moved only an inch when it seemed when should have moved a mile. Slowly, but surely, our momentum carried us forward to the point where we were propelling so quickly through the year that it seemed like it would never end. These last few weeks, however, have added friction to our ill-perceived inertia, reminding me again that things do, in fact, come to an end, people move on, and most of all, that things do change.
My attitude towards Change is ambivalent. I recognize her necessity, but sometimes loathe her narcissism. She sees not individuals, but the big picture. And in order for the big picture to continue to its dynamic evolution, Change is necessary. Change knows this; she knows there is collateral damage, but she persists onward, reminding us that evolution is the only way to truly grow.
I’ve grown a lot this year, just not necessarily in the ways I thought I would. I left my home in Chicago almost a year ago now, on a quest to find a place to fit in, both personally and professionally, running towards something that I thought might help me in that respect. And that it has. As a result, though, the lessons I’ve learned, while diverse and varied, are not necessarily pedagogical or curricular. Sure, I’ve expanded my repertoire of resources and learned a few new tricks; I’ve practiced the delicate art of social-emotional learning with the help of some great educators. But as I walk in this morning and prepare to walk out this afternoon, I’ll leave reflecting mostly on the relationships I’ve built this year, especially as a co-teacher.
The Truth About Co-Teaching
Beginning this year, I knew co-teaching would be my greatest challenge. Before this year, all I knew was having my own classroom. Yes, I had collaborated with colleagues before, but when our meetings ended and we closed our agendas, I was still able to go back to my classroom and conduct my lessons in a way that worked for me and my students alone. But this changes when you work with a co-teacher full-time. While all close collaborative relationships are intimate, having a full-time co-teacher is like living with your boyfriend, your husband, your wife, whereas working on a team, each with his or her own separate classroom, is like living in a really fun frat house, each person somewhat independent of each other. You may come together in the common areas for reflection, for fun, and maybe a little bit of partying, but the reality is you still lead relatively separate lives.
And so, this adjustment was a huge challenge. We started the year tentatively, learning each other’s ticks and ways to help each other grow. We found places where we were similar, and even more places we were different. We talked; we smiled; we hugged; we fought. We left work blazingly angry at each other many days, but finished even more weeks unbearably grateful for each other’s talents and support. We were forced to take a perspective far different than ours, and we were required to concede, even if it wasn’t exactly what we thought was best.
Now, at the end of the tunnel, the wind tousling our hair peacefully as our train leaves us, we can see that it helped us grow. We note each other’s strengths and our commonalities before we ruminate on our differences; we see now, with clarity, how we fit into the ecosystem of the classroom as one cohesive unit — and in this marriage we call co-teaching.
After a certain amount of time co-teaching, you have no choice but to let yourself be entirely seen for what you are — your good, your bad, and your ugly. Perhaps this was why I was so scared of it this year. I certainly didn’t want that to be seen. And while putting on a facade may work temporarily, the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the classroom brings out your natural habits — both good and bad — and you have no choice but to make it work. It’s hard, it’s vulnerable, and it’s emotional, but when I look back on it — when I look back on how far my co-teacher and I have come this year — I don’t feel an ounce of regret. Out of any “marriage” comes lots of things: times of happiness, times of sadness, anger, all of these things. But what also comes out of a marriage is a best friend, a confidant, and unconditional love.
I found that this year, and it was the best thing I’m walking away with.