30 August 2008

The Surreal Life

Now that I've been on the job for a couple of weeks, I'm getting a lot of questions about it. As in, "What is your job?" I'm still figuring that out, but am starting to get my mind wrapped around some pieces of it. When I'm asked about what I think of my new role and work, the best answer I can give is that "It's surreal."

You know those ed policymakers you see or read about in the news? These people are now at the table when I go to meetings. I might have heard Mr. Such-and-So's name hundreds of times during the years I've been in Washington; but until now, I never moved in the kinds of circles which would have provided contact with him...much less talked strategy and science. Teleconference with a well-known scientist? One you have to get a bit toe-to-toe with over some upcoming professional development? Um, yeah, I can do that. (And did.)

The days are a string of events like this, all wrapped up in the greatest amount of bureaucracy that I've ever encountered. I was warned that it would take two weeks to get a pencil. I fear that person may be right. Knowledge is assigned in very discrete units---no two support staff know the same things...and to get some information updated or changed nearly requires a legislative mandate. But, it's all good. I have no interest in fighting the system. As it is, I'm just marveling at the machinations. What a challenge it is to navigate, let alone, understand them.

While I can't speak to any specific examples, I will say that I am very impressed with the quality of people who work in the agency. That's not to say that everyone gets along---and make no mistake, starting a new job like this is akin to marrying into a very large family with both favourites and black sheep---but everyone is passionate about doing what is best for kids. This singular focus on students is a positive one. We might disagree now and then about what this will look like...or squabble over the limited resources to achieve the goal...but you can't fault people for keeping kids at heart. I respect that. If I could change anything about how people do business there, it would be to encourage them to step outside the "echo chamber," and network more. If I just stay in the science circle, then I've limited what I can learn and apply. I think teachers and kids deserve more from me than that.

I keep thinking that this job will sink in at some point. As teachers, we are often too humble about our profession. "I'm just a teacher." And while that is not the best approach to take, it does become part of our self-image. I am still a teacher, but I am also one in a very different kind of role now. As surreal as it may seem, I get to sit at the same table as some of the people who have had a hand in setting the course for classrooms around the state all these years...the "them" we sometimes shake our tiny fists at. I have to overcome the "just a teacher" mentality on behalf of my peers and do what I can to improve their classroom realities.


Duez said...

It has been interesting finding your blog and reading your thoughts on your new position. I don't envy you in any way.

Although I know we need great people in leadership and high up in our system to lead the way, it is not a place I ever want to be.

I realized in your last sentence that the reason is that I never think of myself as "just a teacher." And that makes all the difference. Teaching should be a 'pillar of the community' kind of position. One in which we realize the power we have, whether we are paid or respected for it or not.

Good luck with finding your way in your new job. The hardest part for me... by far... would be not having close relationships with a class of 30 (although most of my classes this year are 35+ - maybe you can do something about that someday?).

The Science Goddess said...

I definitely agree that teachers should realize their power, whether or not the rest of the community does...but it is darned hard to shake the "just a teacher" view so deeply engrained. Good on you for having that better self-image.

At this time last year, I was writing lesson plans for rooms with 30+ kids. All of that is very fresh in my mind and at the forefront of how I look at things in my new role. The challenge is that many of the people I work with have either not worked in classrooms at all, or have not taught in a long time. Their perceptions of life in the classroom are not always reflective of reality. While I don't know that I can change those, I can temper them.

Glad you found my blog. Always good meet another Texan. :)