I used to have this terrific co-teacher I taught with at the old space up on Phinney Ridge. We worked quite closely together for 9 years, intimately I'd say, if I weren't a married man. It wasn't perfect, of course, no relationship is. Oh, I had my gripes about her, and to her credit she changed for me where she could, but there were places, it turned out, where she simply couldn't change, wouldn't even try, and that's where, if I was going to make it work, I had to change for her.
In a very real way, the old Woodland Park classroom shaped who I am as a teacher, having been the only school in which I've ever worked for more than a year at a time. The Reggio Emilia model of early childhood education considers the environment to be the "third teacher" (as part of a three-legged stool that includes classroom teacher and parents) and I've really been made aware of this during this summer of transitioning to our new space at the center of the universe . . . And we haven't even used the indoor part of the school yet.
My new co-teacher is bigger, more functional, and, frankly, more attractive than the one with whom I've been working. And the kind of teacher I've become while working with my small, quirky former colleague isn't going to be the teacher I can remain while teaching here. This summer has been a process of working through some of that; at least coming to understand what and where I need to adapt, but also figuring out where I'm going to have to ask her to change for me.
For one thing, I can see that my "bouncing off the walls" teaching style (a descriptor I would have never used to describe myself except in hindsight) can't work the same way here -- at least not outdoors. One of the things I'd unconsciously come to love about our cramped little space was how easy it was to "make the rounds," to get some real face time in with each of the kids every day, to cycle through all the activities and games and conflicts, to really have my finger on what was going on in every nook and cranny. I still want to achieve that, but this is a new dance partner; I'm definitely not going to be able to do it to the old rhythm. Most days this cool Seattle summer I've spent in a literal sweat as I've instinctively tried to force her to do things that she's not capable of doing. I'm going to need to slow down and take things, I think, at her pace.
I'd also grown accustomed to having my co-worker in my ear at all times, right up there next to me, chattering about every little thing that is happening. Newcomers often commented on how loud the place was, how they could sometimes barely hear the person right beside them, but that's the kind of teacher she was, small and echoey. And say what you want, I'd come to count on her inability to keep secrets. Without even knowing it, I'd come to expect this, to be able to discern the various strains coming through the hubbub, to detect certain qualities in the din. I could turn my back on the room, yet still always pretty much know what was going on. This was even true outdoors where the walls surrounding our courtyard bounced the sounds. Now, in the new space, it's possible to be so far away that a child's voice doesn't reach me. Several times I've turned to look to the top of the hill where the gate is, and spotted one of our youngest children standing there calling for mommy. My old co-worker would never have allowed that to happen.
After this week, the children go home for a month, leaving me and the third teacher alone for awhile to kind of noodle some things through. I'm glad we had these weeks together, co-teaching, a kind of trial by fire to see where we are with one another. There have been some struggles, but also some moments in which I've seen glimpses of a brilliance to come. There are some changes I can already see she's willing and able to make, and I know there are some I will have to make as well, both in terms of style and curriculum.
Many parents have offered to help me during these next few weeks and they've already helped a lot, but right now I'm inclined to decline. It's a hard thing for me to do because, after all, we're a cooperative, and the parents are the "first teacher" in Reggio parlance, so they'll need to get to know her as well. But still, before that, I need my time alone with her, at least for the next two weeks. It might make for some dull blogging as I dive into the minutiae of storage, furniture arranging, and space usage, but I'm really looking forward to getting to know her better.
And I can't wait to see what new kind of teacher she'll help me become.
This is my personal blog and is not a publication of the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschools. I put a lot of time and effort into it. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
I am a preschool teacher, writer, speaker, artist and the author of "A Parent's Guide To Seattle".
For the past 15 years, I've taught preschool at the Woodland Park Cooperative School. The children come to us as 2-year-olds in diapers and leave as "sophisticated" 5-year-olds ready for kindergarten.
The cooperative school model allows me to work very closely with families in a true community setting.
I intend to teach at Woodland Park for the rest of my life. I love the kids and I love the families. It's an incredibly rewarding job.
(I have recently realized that I have some stories about my hometown of Seattle that I want to tell which don't really fit the Teacher Tom blog, so I've started a new one called Stories From 6th Avenue where I'll be occasionally writing about my city.)