The teacher whose class I stood before was probably learning to walk the year I first became a teacher. I’d seen her energy and passion when I’d observed her teach, and I’ll confess that I wasn’t sure how I’d follow in her student centered footsteps. Prepared as I was, I wasn’t sure if the kids would look at this fellow in the tie and simply say: “No thanks, we’d prefer Ms. Garcia.” I’m their principal; I’m no dynamic young teacher.
And then the bell rang and I started teaching.
Mindful of the clock (I’d planned a lot to go into this block period, maybe too much) I introduced Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the story of the day, “The Musgrave Ritual.” The students were kind and curious, funny and interesting. They seemed to particularly go for a hands on observation and deduction exercise in which they took items from the lost and found, made close observations, and wrote down what they believed they could tell about the owner of the objects. In the first class I taught one group realized that the sweatshirt they were looking at belonged to a fellow from across the room. At the end of the day that student forgot the sweatshirt in the classroom again.
We used Chromebooks to read the story, the text accompanied by original illustrations by Paget. The science department lent me tape measures for the portion of the day when we got to go outside and measure shadows (as Holmes had) using similar triangles to determine a tree’s height. We talked about the similarity of a mystery and the close reading of a text.
The hour and forty-five minutes disappeared.
I head back into the classroom tomorrow morning, with back to back lessons in 8th grade English classes, and I’ll follow up with one more lesson before the week is out. I know I’ll have more time to reflect on it all more over the weekend, but right now, as I get ready to head home and be a dad, I’m struck by three things:
Teaching is magical. The give and take of a classroom is unmatched by any professional experience I’ve ever had. Seeing curious and interesting students engage in thinking and what a friend of mine calls “productive struggle” is inspiring. I wish I’d had a little more time for that, and may try to adapt my lesson before tomorrow morning to give the students the time they need to delve deeply into the challenges of the lesson.
Teaching is exhausting. And teachers do it every single day. I’m just (to crib a line from Barton Fink) a tourist with a typewriter; they’re the heroes who work with students day in and out, voices strong, patience stronger, and positivity a hallmark of those who do it best. As a principal I’m used to days that demand endurance, but even now my voice is hoarse and I’m ready to finally eat some lunch.
Teaching is something that I want to keep as a regular practice in my life as an administrator. I still need to take the time to really reflect on my most recent experiences in the classroom, but as I pause for breath at the end of my first day of teaching in far too long, I know that the opportunity for me to work with students, and for them to see me as more than just a guy in a tie, is something that can inform all of what I do as an instructional leader. These students were inspiring, and I think we all left a little better connected. I believe that committing myself to teach every year will make me a better principal.
It’s getting dark now, and I see some teachers heading home. I’m not far behind them. In my mind is that line from “His Last Bow” when Sherlock Holmes turns to his friend and says: “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.”