love letter to my (previous) school

codman, o codman… how do i love thee? let me count the ways…

the most fantastic place i’ve ever worked, codman has a culture of caring that is not to be slighted. faculty use the word love when they talk about alumni, when they talk about struggling kids who are failing their classes: “we must love-bomb them” is an imploration that is not infrequently used.

the teachers are intellectuals here. for anyone who’s taught in public schools (regardless of whether they were in the suburbs or cities), this is not an assumed reality. teachers in general are frequently NOT intellectuals. even in towns of high socio-economic status, even in states highly regarded for their test scores. too often i found my colleagues in Bolton, Milton, and Salem to be more interested in talking about last night’s football game than about questions of pedagogy. yes, i know, we don’t have to talk educational theory all the time, but somewhat? please?

the culture of codman, by contrast, is one of pursuit. faculty regularly engage with questions of grading, of student independence, of structure vs. freedom. every other week, at faculty meeting, someone brings in an article for us all to read and discuss. teachers in grade team and department meetings make real decisions that create dramatic changes in the school: developing a new schedule for seniors; changing the portfolio process; implementing standards-based grading. codman teachers are not just intellectual, they are creative and curious. science teachers and humanities teachers discuss how to teach about the AIDS crisis. math teachers bring their students to MIT. teachers operate on a firm conviction that watching each other teach and talking about it will improve their practice- and they’re right. we may close our doors sometimes, but anyone is free to walk in, and the assumption is that a discussion and reflection will follow.

i have grown incredibly as a teacher at Codman. i have created a sequence and practice of gradual release of responsibility around student discussions, and shared it with other teachers from all corners of the U.S. at two national conferences. i have grown much better at developing curriculum and supporting students’ critical thinking, choosing primary sources and teaching kids how to engage with them, stepping back and letting rich materials speak for themselves instead of relying on direct instruction. what i’m proud of most of all is creating community partnerships. for 4 years, i’ve brought American war veterans into the classroom. for 3, i’ve built in debates about unions and invited in union leadership and equity activists in to speak. for 3, i’ve trained my students in oral history interview techniques and taken them next door to the senior center to talk to elders about their personal histories, recording stories of race and class. for 3 years, i’ve brought in professional spoken word poets to coach students through the process of creating and performing original spoken word poems on the subject of the power of Americans. i’ve had students write letters to the editor about income inequality after interviewing participants of Occupy Boston, coordinated a visit of 25 adult professionals to speak one-on-one to students about their lives in work, and invited my kids to ask questions about institutional racism to a man who was wrongfully convicted, partly on the basis of race. i have felt incredibly powerful as a teacher at codman and hope to feel that powerful in my future placements.

even though we struggle, and kids struggle more, we are doing good work. there is beautiful effort afoot. codman, keep on going. thanks for giving me a reason to believe and a will to work.

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