“Every New Beginning Comes from…

…Some Other Beginning’s End” — Dan Wilson, “Closing Time”

It is (almost) officially the end of my first semester as an assistant professor.  I’ve been thinking about this post for almost a week, trying to perfect it in my mind before the words could flow through my fingers and on to the screen; but then I realized that, like this semester, this closing blog post would be composed through trial and error. And, if I didn’t get started, it would likely fade into the ether without any reflection at all.

The Ugly:

Me, at the beginning of the semester, trying to generate 3 brand new syllabi, design new lectures every week, and balance 5 observations a week while trying to shuttle a 6-year old from his American school to his Chinese school, both of which were WAY different from his previous bilingual school. It was truly the stuff of nightmares.  Long, recurring nightmares.

The Bad:

I struggled a lot with professional identity this semester and even more with the overwhelm of academia.  Being a young-looking adult has always had both its perks and its drawbacks and this was the case in my new role as well.  For the first few weeks, some of the feedback in my courses felt very personal: comments about my voice, about the strategies I employed, my apologetic nature.  Being the responsive educator that I am, I tried to address each of these comments and adapt myself. (It’s an old battle, the identity one–one which those of you that follow this blog have seen emerge several times already)  And then, somewhere around the 5th or 6th week of the semester, I realized that the strength of my teaching was my authenticity. And that’s when I started to hit my stride.  (Well, until I hit my student teachers’ second placements, but that wrap up will come later)

The Good:

This semester, I had the privilege of living out my dream job: teaching future teachers about teaching.  Not a lot of people get to really live out their dreams and even fewer having dreams of teaching teachers, but hey, my strength is in my authenticity, right? Or was that my nerdiness?

And let me tell you about living the dream….It was awesome.

For half my students, I got to “cover” the basics, which are not really basic: Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment and Classroom Management (Note: These 4 areas take a lifetime for excellent teachers to master and I got about 4 weeks a piece with a high stakes assessment thrown in).  We explored the worlds of curriculum mapping, backwards planning, and authentic assessment.  We discussed what it meant to be fair and consistent, the differences between equity and equality, and how to think about essential questions that really prompted high level thought and discussion among students.  We touched on differentiation, the importance of relationships with students, and on what standardized testing might mean for them and their job prospects. It was so much, so fast.  It all seemed like a blur.  But, it ended with connection:

The Most Important Thing I’ll Take from This Class is…that learning doesn’t look the same through everyone’s lens.

In my other course, I got to teach future teachers about literacy and language and how literacy is embedded in and important to all content areas.  This course is my passion.  No, really, I LOVE CONTENT AREA LITERACY.  I love to teach strategies about it, talk about it, practice it (seriously, I can’t even read a cooking magazine without underlining or annotating). And the most exciting thing is that my students actually listened…and engaged…and thought deeply…and applied…and grew:

Yes, Emma, they do.

Reading the end of semester reflections really reminded me why I do what I do:

“I’ve realized through this class that I will not always know the answers to everything (shocker!)…and that’s ok. Teaching goes both ways. I hope to learn from my students as much as I hope they learn from me.”

“This course has helped me create multiple access points to deliver my content. It might have felt like second nature at the beginning of the semester, but today, it feels tactical. I have a framework for success.”

“My own identity as an educator relies heavily on the belief that learning never ends”

“My opinion of language and literacy in the classroom has drastically changed and it is because of the way I feel my content area was included in this course.”

And my personal favorite: “Your willingness to make this content applicable to each individual is a testament to your absolute passion for education.”

So, the semester ends (well almost, I still have 4 observations and evaluations and 1 seminar this week).  I’ll never ever have another first semester as an assistant professor.  I’m thankful for that, but even more thankful that I’ll get to do it all again next semester and it will be a completely different experience with a new community of learners.  So awesome.

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