Every day an educator has been given a gift, a unique opportunity to write a new story, add to an old, and edit. Educators are also presented with the narratives that have been told over and over again; these are the stories anchored in deficit; they are the stories of the problems, challenges, and disabilities of students. Educators are also presented with a choice of which stories to discard, which to keep, and which to tell again. There is power in a story well told, and new teachers, as they learn the craft of storytelling through the lives of their students can either build capacity and competency, or destabilize and destroy.
This year I am relearning the power of my words, I am again finding my voice. I am learning the capacity that I have to build or burn bridges. This is a hard task. I have made many mistakes. I can only move forward by forgiving myself and providing a wide margin for error. I think I learn this lesson a lot through my relationship with fellow teachers, especially in a co-teaching environment. Co-teaching is not for the faint of heart. It's also not for the man or woman who isn't willing to have someone watch for a better part of the day the story he or she is telling, and have it interpreted. It's not for the person who is trying to hide parts of themselves, because what is hidden will eventually be revealed. It's for the woman, it's for the man who is willing to put her or himself on the line and be okay with being read like a book.
The New York City Department of Education's official website, encapsulates the idea of building capacity within trust in the following manner, “We affirm that relationships between all members of the school community— including administrators, educators, students and families—are based on social respect, personal regard, and integrity” (2016). The implications are that in order to help students be their best selves, teachers must first develop their strengths and work on their weaknesses. One thing I know concerning developing of myself, and the helping students on their journey is that there needs to be trust.
Trust is often built upon the stories we tell one another - through actions, words, and the space in between. As a co-teacher I find that the space in between - the silences, the shared thoughts, an unexpected sequence of events are where the trust is built. How do I think about the men and women I work with? Do I want their best as much as I want the best for the children who I am charged with teaching, and moving forward?
As I examine these past few months, and look forward to the future, I think, "Am I living a trustworthy story; is my life telling a trustworthy story?" I do my best to live with integrity, acknowledging those places that need work. When you work closely with others your true self cannot always be hidden. This year has been a reshaping. There have been a lot of internal and external happenings that have caused me to rethink how I see myself and others. I pray that I continue to grow, because growth = success as a teacher. So my goal is to grow - to grow stronger, and kinder, and to be more encouraging - to myself and others.
Teachers are storytellers. As a teacher, as a woman, as a teacher who is a woman of color, who is also a descendent of Haitian immigrants, I think of the stories I tell. What story am I telling my students, my colleagues, my admin? What stories are being told based on my femininity, my blackness, my Caribbean-ness, my Martha-ness, which is distinct from my being Ms. St. Jean? What parts of myself am I carrying into the role, the classroom, and conversations? What parts do I purposefully, and many times unintentionally truncate? Now, as a co-teacher, I am seeing myself through another lens, I try to imagine myself through the eyes of another. I try to see myself through someone who may not share any other aspect of my identity except that person is also a teacher, and our common ground is the classroom.
This person becomes a mirror. A mirror of the good, bad, and ugly. There is no escaping. My words weigh more heavily. My flaws are magnified (at least in my mind!!!). Issues I did not know I had are bought to bear. Co-teaching, dear reader, is not for the faint of heart.
What has helped me this year is something someone once said during a class at Teachers College, Columbia University. There is this idea about the difference between noticing and judging. As I reflected on that, I could not help but think of relationships such as co-teaching. When you are with someone many hours of the day - you will notice many things, what you do with what you notice is your choice. Will I judge? Or will I work to make a connection? Judging cuts one off from connection. I am not saying it is never right to judge. No, not at all. We should have standards in society. I believe that there is right and there is wrong. There exists the moral and the immoral. There are times when you and I must make a judgement, this is different from judging a person, because I am calling out an action.
When I notice without judging, or when someone notices me without judging I am more likely to be myself. This also allows me to recognize my limitations and areas that need improvement without self or other condemnation. This awareness then allows me to change, because I do not feel judged for who I am, bringing me to a new level of not only consciousness but trust. And this trust dear reader, is the solid foundation of any good relationship.
As a new teacher, I have this tendency to doubt myself. I am constantly wondering if I am doing enough, doing too much, or just doing stuff that doesn't matter. That third thought is the scariest; the thought that what I'm doing just doesn't matter.
We all want to be significant. We all want to matter. It's an innate human need. That need gets satisfied when we know that what we are doing while we have time on this earth matters. If you ever want to doubt yourself - teach. If you ever want to doubt your capabilities - work with children. But doubt is incongruent to my teaching because I need to impart wisdom, and build up the character of the next generation of leaders. So yes, I take myself and my work very seriously, because I have been called to teach.
Teaching isn't something you fall into. It requires passionate people. And passionate people, like me, sometimes we doubt ourselves, because we so badly don't want to mess up a life. As I grow as a teacher, I am doing my best to cast my doubt aside. The doubt is complete obscured in the waxing love of the students I have the sheer joy of meeting each day in the classroom. In those moments - those precious moments of teaching, I am fully alive, I am fully known, and all fears, failures, and doubts are cast aside in the presence of the gifts that are my students.
Ms. St. Jean
Native New Yorker teaching and living the middle school life, using this site to keep it 100. My students are the embodiment of joy.