Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Beginning Journey

I never planned to be a teacher. I began my career as an assistant research virologist - then married and moved to Mobile, Alabama only to discover that I could find no work in my field. Undaunted, I began randomly applying for jobs and the day after school started a principal called and asked if I'd teach math at a junior high school. Sure, I thought . . . how hard could that be, anyway?

It won't surprise you to learn that I found out that teaching was hard work . . . the hardest I'd ever done. And it also won't surprise many of you that I was completely hooked on teaching and kids by the end of that first year. I remember telling my husband over dinner one night, "Honey, I've decided to go into teaching." He calmly swallowed the bite of overdone steak he had been gamely chewing and remarked, "Okay, go ahead. I'm an engineer. I can support you." So, I took the salary "hit" and I discovered I was never richer than when I was working with those amazing, puzzling, and promising young teens.

One thing did perplex me, however, about my new teaching career. I had just left a profession where adults met regularly to discuss our work, analyze and troubleshoot problems, and plan next steps together. I stepped into the most important profession in our nation - the public school system - the glue that holds our diverse citizenry together as a nation. I had no experience or training as a teacher - and there was no time to meet with the other experienced teachers get help and guidance . . . no time to analyze our work, plan, and increase our effectiveness. What was that all about?

That question never ceased to amaze me. It still does. And it accounts for the fact that now most of my current life is consumed with trying to help teachers gain the same opportunities that other professionals have . . . opportunities to learn from each other and support one another as they do the important work of preparing students for worlds that we can't even imagine.

After 16 years I took a year off from teaching to work on that problem. If you're interested in some of the struggles and insights of an extremely naive and not entirely successful first-year team-builder, you can read an online diary I kept during that year. I'm still working full-time on building what are now known as professional learning communities.