Here's My Future (6)

There must be a good reason for the longest absence of posts on this blog yet and there is: since school has started, there was no time for writing here. I have decided not to feel bad about this anymore and just wait for the right time, which seems to be now. And the good thing is that the last six weeks of school give me a lot to write about on my ongoing journey into different ways of schooling and teaching.

First of all, school started in the holidays already. The last three days of the summer holidays are reserved for meeting with the whole team of teachers to prepare for the new school year. That includes talking about general things that are important for this year, meeting with your team of class teachers that teach your main year and with teachers from your subjects. During those meetings everything relevant is discussed and materials are exchanged. Just as a reminder: all of this is revolutionary new after my years of working at a regular school where the very idea of working together with other teachers was an anomaly. Now there is an intensive preparation for the coming year, taking away a lot of the stress that a normal start includes. Okay, you have to invest three days of your holidays but I think it is worth it. It is also a nice opportunity for new colleagues to find their way. But most importantly it emphasizes the idea of team work against the isolation you face in normal schools.

I am now one of the tutors (or class teachers) in the “Oberstufe”, year 11 to 13 for students wanting to achieve a higher school diploma. It is hard for me to convey the excitement and fun of being able to participate in creating a new kind of system. Most of the foundation has been laid long before I ever joined the school but there is so much to consider and to organize that there is plenty of room to get involved.

One of the key features of this different system are three weeks of orientation for all students at the beginning of the year. Since this is a new start for all of the 11th graders, they get special care from us. This should help everyone getting to know each other, their main teachers and the school, without any pressure. In these three weeks they only have their main courses plus extra lessons in which they learn some basics they need for the next 2,5 years. Included are also three days of group and team activities, developed by experts who work together with the teachers and students. We really thought a lot about how to give everyone a helpful start but since then we’ve also spent some time on trying to improve those three weeks for next year.

There is something I have to say about my new students. After seven years at a regular school (I wonder how long this will haunt me), I was extremely pleased to learn just how motivated, independent and self-confident they are. I don’t want to fault my past students in any way but it just shows how a good school can make its students much stronger than a regular school that doesn’t really care about them that much. Those 11th-graders are the product of six years of work to make them capable of organizing themselves, incorporating their ideas and making them part of the school instead of just rushing through the school year after year. They are not more intelligent or nicer or more sympathetic but simply more assured of themselves.

There are so many other things going on. I spent several hours a week just talking to my colleagues to ensure that we’re all on the same page. This sounds maybe time-intensive or stressful and in some way it is, but on the other hand it makes everything so much easier. I’m still constantly amazed at not just working for myself in my own little world. I’m really part of a team (or several teams) and my contributions actually count. For the three English Advanced Courses, we’re teaching the same content, reading the same books and want to write the same exams (without using a textbook!). All the materials that I had created over the years and that no one really cared about (because they were no “teacher’s handbooks”) now are actually appreciated. The sensation of seeing other teachers teach my “stuff” was awesome. But this works in both (or all) ways as everyone can contribute. This of course can only work because we mostly agree on everything which is more than fortunate. One of my biggest worries before changing the school was that I wouldn’t be able to be a real team player, that I enjoyed being the singular rebel so much that it would be hard to give that up and I would discover that I really suck at working with others. I feel like this fear was unfounded as I really enjoy this aspect of my school.

Back to my students. After those first three weeks I feel like I know them so much better than I would have under “normal” circumstances. Again, there is a huge benefit in that, both for the daily routine of going to school and for the actual lessons. Because they are relatively eager to learn and not nearly as frustrated and numb as regular students often are (with exceptions on both fronts), I’m constantly worried that I don’t offer them enough. They assure me that this is not the case but I’m still not completely used to this environment.

Another new development: me and my 11th-graders are on a first name basis, which in German is even more relevant because of the less formal “Du” that is normally not used between students and teachers. I always wanted to do that and it would have been unthinkable at my old school, but I didn’t just get the approval to try it out at this school but my principal basically urged me to try it. As you might see, this is a first even for this school, so we’ll see how it turns out. The students seem to like it, even if they have to get used to it too.

There is a weird paradox. Because everyone is integrated in teams and there are overarching systems that go throughout the school, you’d think that individually you have less freedom. I was the problem teacher at my old school but I still did more or less whatever I wanted because it didn’t influence anyone else outside my classroom. But it never feels restrictive (though I know that some colleagues feel that way). Just the opposite, because being able to contribute ideas and to participate in creating a school the way we all want it to be, is more liberating than anything I’ve experienced in my years as a teacher. I still don’t think children need school but if they have to go, I couldn’t imagine a much better school. And I’m actively a part of it. I’m getting closer to my 10-year-anniversary as a teacher and I can honestly say that the last six weeks have been the best I ever had as a teacher.

While writing this post, I also realized something else. While my job means I have less time for other things, like writing my blog, I feel less of a need to write. I started this blog because I felt that I’m not doing enough at my school, as a teacher, I wanted to do more and writing articles about school and our culture gave me the feeling of doing more and maybe also reaching more people. But now I’m as actively working on change as I have ever done, so there is not such a strong urge to change minds and write about things that I think are going wrong. To cut this short, I think my satisfaction with my job also leads to less articles on this blog. I’m not thinking about stopping, though, as I’m still inspired often enough to write about something. And I also think it is important to write about my current experiences to show others what is possible, that there are other ways of doing things. So, I will continue, just still not as regular as in the past. I hope this is understandable.

And if I’m at all successful in portraying my inspiration, satisfaction and sheer happiness to you, dear constant reader, this might be worth more than ranting and criticizing what doesn’t work. This does work. And speaking up, asking and answering is as essential for what I’m doing now as it has ever been. I’m charting new territory for myself and everyone involved and I intend on continuing to share this journey with everyone. It is as if the world has become a globe again, with limitless possibilities. I hope you enjoy the trip at least half as much as I do.