One of my dear friends became a teacher about 10 years after me. Recently, he reminded me of a conversation we had after the end of his first year of teaching. He was telling me about all of the things he wanted to do differently the following year (pretty much, everything – isn’t that how your first year of teaching is?) and I said, “Oh yeah. Your first year is all about your second year.”
I strongly remember the feeling of bumbling my way through my first year of teaching, every moment filled with thoughts of HOW I WILL DO THIS DIFFERENTLY NEXT YEAR. So many goals! I love goals. Goals give me something to do, something to dig into, something to read about and talk about and learn about. They help me know that I’m making progress. In short, I am all about setting goals.
Flash forward: it’s teaching year 19 for me. And coaching year three. And this early September, I’ve been having some trouble figuring out my goals.
One reason for this is that goals come in many sizes, and the longer I’ve been teaching, the bigger my goals have become. I miss the goals that were like “revise these lessons to make them better” or “play music in the classroom.” Those goals were so attainable. When I became the math coach at my school, I had some attainable math coach goals, too – like “make a math website for our school” and “revise these lessons to make them better [for every grade]”. My work was still meaty, in that I was working on a greater scale, albeit with a narrower scope than when I was a classroom teacher.
But the big goals — the truly big goals, like “align our curriculum and our teaching with our beliefs about math pedagogy” and “improve teachers’ ability to facilitate math discussions” and “deepen and broaden teacher content knowledge” — these are not goals that can be attained in a year, or two, or three. You can make progress, and I think we have, but progress is hard to measure on a schoolwide scale, and from a coaching perspective. What metrics should we use? Do those actually reflect progress? How will I know when I can check off a goal like any one of those as “done”? These are some of the questions that are plaguing me as I enter year 19/year 3.
Even more, what I was missing a little bit as I started to prepare to talk with staff today and tomorrow, was the excitement of embarking on a new project. When a goal is new, I have so much energy and momentum to put towards working on it. But what about when a goal is old? How do you find the newness, the inspiration, in an old goal? And if I can’t find it, how am I going to get the teachers I coach excited, inspired, about our goals?
My mom is selling my childhood home and this past weekend, I was there, sorting through piles and piles of papers and notebooks and artifacts from my school career, preschool through college. What I re-found out about myself from reading through my high school English journal entries and my papers on Othello and Ulysses, is that I might be a math coach now, but I’ve been a reader and a writer my whole life. Words – my own and those of the authors I love and admire – are everything to me. So when I was feeling a little lost about how to inspire myself and everyone else around our new/old goals, I sought my own inspiration in books, in other people’s words and ideas. Tracy Zager’s chapter on mathematicians using intuition, Deborah Ball’s AERA talk on discretionary spaces and the power of teaching — these texts helped me remember why I’m doing what I’m doing, where I’m hoping to go with it, and they helped me find some newness in places that felt a little old.