I have been thoroughly enjoying my sabbatical this semester. I am much less stressed because I am not teaching full time. I’m having a great time hanging out with the kids at Prairie School*. I am getting a ton of knitting done. I have actually had time to read and think—things I always crave during the semester!
I want to ask myself, though, what am I learning? I want to start by sharing some of the broad conclusions I’m drawing about myself, my teaching, and this project.
Number 1: I am learning that I can do this. I can break away from my full-time job and still be happy. I can feel like I’m productive and I can find ways to contribute to others without teaching full-time. I want to say I am learning this and not that I’ve learned this because I still have a connection to my college. I know that I will teach there again (this fall), so I don’t have experience fully shedding my identity as it pertains to my place of employment. I am just getting these glimpses into a future that could be similar to what life could be like if I were to retire early.
Number 2: I’m learning I miss college students! A few months ago, my dad said I’d miss my regular work during sabbatical, and I was like, “Yeah, right.” I tell my parents bits and pieces about my frustrations with my employment, but they don’t hear the full story about my ideas about possibly retiring early. Even without getting the full story, though, my dad called it—to some degree.
I was working with the kids at Prairie School and I started thinking about how I missed my college students. I really love the relationships I build with my college freshman. I’m also so much more comfortable with what typical college students know and don’t know as they come to school for the first time. I know a lot less about middle school kids, which is the group I’m working with at Prairie.
I also enjoy being the teacher in my own classroom. As much as I enjoy following the teacher I help at Prairie School, and as much of a relief it is that I don’t have to plan, teach, and grade sets of papers for five college classes a semester, I also miss it a bit. I miss seeing how students respond to different activities and assignments. I miss working with individual students to help them move forward with a paper. I miss having a casual conversation with students as I’m packing up class.
Number 3: I am learning I want to be better able to talk about what I value in teaching. I am super-clear on what pisses me off about certain systems at my college and what my teacher-friends experience at public schools, not to mention what my step-kids have (and have not) learned at public schools. I can articulate why some practices are just wrong—namely harmful—to the students and teachers experiencing them. I can also tell you why other practices are so much better. I can rarely express these things without anger and after a few sentences of an explanation, well, I struggle to fully explain what I think and why. I want to be able to express my thoughts and feelings about these issues more fully and without anger. If I have a chance that someone will listen to me, I’d like to be able to deliver my thoughts in a way they can hear.
Number 4: I am learning that I’m struggling to understand aspects of teaching that overlap each other. I am finding it is difficult to determine how different theories and concepts and practices I’m learning about relate to each other. Ex: I’ve mainly looked into Project Based Learning, and inquiry-based learning. Prairie School uses both but when they’re using one over the other or one within the other, I am not sure.
I’m also having trouble separating the middle school teacher’s personality from the strategies she’s using. Anyone I talk to about the volunteering I’m doing knows how much I respect the lead teacher. They also know how different I am from her in personality. For example, she is super-straightforward and jumps into helping the kids with their conflicts without hesitation. My nature is to express everything so kindly that at times, students may be confused about what I’m getting at. I also have to consciously move towards conflict; left to my own devices, I avoid it. How much of the success I see in this teacher’s classroom is based on her style and how much of it is based in the theories and pedagogical strategies and structures she’s using? I plan to visit another teacher at Prairie who has a different personality than the middle school teacher to see if I can become more clear on the concepts the teachers are using.
Number 5: I’m simply learning about how an independent school is run. Even before sabbatical, I have been comparing how my college’s administrative structure is different than Prairie School’s. I’m on the Board at Prairie so I am learning about how decisions are made. I have direct access to lots of conversations about what to do and how to do it—like dealing with enrollment, funding, Covid and other health/safety concerns. I can share my thoughts at meetings and possibly have some influence.
On the other hand, I am the recipient of consequences of practices, rules, etc. of what my college decides. As much as I have tried to influence administration, there are too many factors that push my ideas out of the way (such as new state laws about education, funding, and the agendas and goals of each administrator). I can only guess at the decision-making process of my school because I am not privy to certain conversations. At times when I am given certain information that went into decisions that were made, it makes no sense. I have to infer the real drivers of the decisions and I usually attribute them to the finances of the college or the desires of a particular administrator.
At the same time, the goals at the college and K-8 school are different, the size of each school is wildly different, the funding and admissions are different, so I’m trying to determine what practices are results of these differences and what practices are a result of outdated or progressive systems. It’s interesting to me to look at these things. There are just so many layers that lately I’ve been confused.
In short, I am learning a lot during sabbatical—about myself, about teaching, and about trying to manage this big project.
I’m in a stage in the project that I am coming up with more questions than I’m answering. I’m worrying about developing the actual projects I said I’d create because I’m still gathering information. I’m worried the sabbatical work could be infinite if I don’t decide on how to focus it.
So right now I am struggling, but I think this is part of the process. Writing about it sure helps. Thanks for reading!
Peace Out (and In),
*I’ve decided to use a pseudonym (Prairie School) for the K-8 school I’m working at. I may share some specific details and I’ll feel more comfortable if the school name is anonymous.