Reflections from the First Year of Teaching: From Wisconsin to D.C.

It’s been about a year since I’ve flown on a plane.  It’s been about a year since I started my first teaching job.  It’s been about a year since I said, “See you later!” to my awesome colleagues at Project Y.E.S!, an internship that allowed me to travel all around the country with fellow leaders and work with military families and youth, and “Hello!” to my new colleagues here at a middle school in South Central Wisconsin.  Though we’ve spread throughout the country and we’re now separated by many miles, I still feel so connected to my Y.E.S! colleagues thanks to the strong relationships we’ve built with each other and thanks to technology.  And today I want to talk about one of those connections:  my colleague, Patrick Harris.  Patrick, who still travels with Y.E.S! is also a first-year teacher.  He teaches in the southeastern region of Washington D.C.  He is also a part of the 2% of black male educators that make up our national teaching force.  Patrick is very active on Twitter (@PresidentPat) and also hosts a very entertaining and often inspiring Snapchat story.  Earlier this week, he posted a story reflecting on his first year of teaching.  I found it to be very thought-provoking and was also amazed at how much it resonated with me, despite our teaching situations being incredibly different.  The following three bolded points were spoken by Patrick, and my own reflection follows.

  1. When there is a space for innovation, creativity, and critical thinking, results will always follow. Student ownership is key to learning that lasts.  Allowing students to create and construct their learning and be meaning-makers, and providing rich tasks to provoke creative problem solving will ensure that students learn.  Really learn.  It is our job to make learning “stick,” right?  If it’s going to be “sticky,” expect a mess, but know that results will follow.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  You know what they say:  with great risks, comes great reward.
  2. No job is worth compromising your values and who you are, especially if it is as the expense of the people you serve.  Patrick lives this everyday, and I can see it.  He is unapologetically himself, which is truly honorable in a system that was built to bring him, and others like him, down.  It is so obvious that teaching is in his blood.  As is social justice.  Patrick brings his heart to the classroom everyday and that’s what his students benefit from most.
  3. When you are living out your purpose, the very thing you were created on this earth to do, there is nothing that can stop you–no bad policy, no bad law, no bad procedure, nothing!  As teachers, we assume a lot of risk by signing up to be a part of a deeply flawed institution.  We knew the risks.  We need to face them and attack them at the classroom level.  Changes in education policy often take up to 30 years to change.  If the average teacher quits before year 3, what good did they do?  Don’t allow your passion to be extinguished due to poor policies.  Instead, let it ignite your purpose so that you can carry out what you were meant to do.  Burn bright, don’t burn out!

Thanks, Patrick, and thank you to all of our fellow teacher leaders that live these three points every day.  To quote my fellow educator, “Go out there and be great today, let’s do something different, let’s do something new!”

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